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12/9/98 -- 12:36 AM

Wrestling keeps Mason in check

TAMPA - David Mason was a fifth-grader with too much free time and no idea how to spend it. He also was a kid angry about many things, including his parents' divorce. So he stayed out late.

He often ended up getting in trouble.

``I was doing stuff I shouldn磘 have been doing and I just wasn磘 heading in the right direction,创 said Mason, now a sophomore captain for Bloomingdale磗 wrestling team.

Mason remembers that time well. Five years ago, he searched for a way to stay out of trouble. He found wrestling with the help of Dave Cunningham, a coach at a local club.

Cunningham first met Mason at a lake, where he saw the youngster horsing around with, and taking down, his much bigger friends.

Soon after, Mason started freestyle wrestling. Since then, he has fended off the problems that once plagued him and developed into one of the state's top 103-pounders. After finishing 22-11 last season, Mason is poised to compete for a title.

``He磗 a bona-fide contender at 103 in [Class] 6A, definitely top four,创 Bulls coach Scot Tipton said. ``He磗 not intimidated by anything or anybody. He磗 a real verbal, fiery leader who helps the team out. He磗 only a sophomore, but he already has a wealth of experience, more than a lot of seniors in other programs.创

Mason's experience comes from more than 100 USA Wrestling matches. He also spends his Sundays in the garage of Glenn Goodman, a four-time state champion who gives individual instruction. It is there Mason, Goodman and Andy Medders, a Countryside senior rated the state's top 112-pounder, wrestle into the night.

They battle each other for five-minute segments on mats which cover the garage floor and blanket the walls.

``It磗 what makes you good. I don磘 like to lose so I磎 willing to do whatever it takes to win,创 said Mason, who is undefeated this season. ``When I lose in something, I磍l always remember the face I lost to and I磍l practice whatever it is until I can beat them.

``I like the fact that talent doesn磘 get you anywhere in [wrestling]. It磗 all about how hard you work. If you磖e the hardest worker, you磖e going to be the best wrestler.创

Mason's expectations for himself are as tough as his personality. He has dreams of making not only state, but national finals the next few seasons and wants to keep his opponents scoreless.

Wrestling occupies much of his thoughts and time. He wouldn't have it any other way.

``It磗 really important because if I didn磘 have something to do every day, I probably wouldn磘 concentrate on my grades,创 Mason said. ``I磀 be goofing around not making much of my life.创