TACOMA — He is an army of one. And yet Demitri Robinson represents so many.
The high school freshman entered this weekend’s state tournament as the only wrestler to ever compete for Tulalip Heritage. He wears the singlet of Marysville-Pilchuck High School, for whom he competed all season because his school has no program.
He is also representing his tribe and, in a way, every foster child who has dared to dream of better days.
Robinson is so many things to so many people, and tonight he will try to reward them with a state championship.
“It’s been really nerve-wracking,” the 14-year-old admitted shortly after dominating a semifinal match in the 103-pound weight class of the Class 2B/1B tournament Friday. “Everyone is expecting me to come here and win.”
Most of all, Robinson himself expects to win. So even though Oroville junior Bryce Woodruff enters tonight’s finals with an unbeaten record, Robinson (24-3) isn’t backing down.
“I don’t know that much about him,” Robinson said. “I know he was the best at (this classification) before I came down (from Marysville-Pilchuck’s 4A classification). He’s undefeated, and he’s in everyone’s head. But he’s definitely not in mine.”
If Robinson seems unfazed by large obstacles, it’s because he has hurdled so many before.
He was born into a dysfunctional family situation, the son of biological parents that were, as Robinson himself admits, into heavy drug use. Nadine and Kenny Robinson eventually overdosed on heroin, and along the way their children — one of Demitri’s brothers was born, according to foster father Lee Gilford, “flatlined and already addicted to heroin” — were removed from them by the state.
Demitri moved in with a family friend named Michelle Myles in 1999, shortly after the biological father that he never really knew passed away. Robinson attended his father’s funeral but did not completely understand the significance of it.
“I was a little kid, only 6 years old,” he said after Friday’s semifinal match. “Being a little kid, I didn’t know what was going on. I just wanted to go and get something to eat, like any regular kid would.”
Six years later, Demitri’s biological mother passed away of a heroin overdose.
“I didn’t expect to, but I actually started crying,” he said of his mother’s funeral. “I guess people pass. She was the woman who brought me into this world, so I was thankful for that.”
Robinson’s foster parents, Myles and Gilford — the non-tribal member met Michelle in 2002 and eventually moved to the Reservation to marry her — made sure that his future would be nothing like his past. They created a safe environment for the child, who developed a fondness for wrestling after Gilford introduced him to the sport.
“It’s been awesome to watch him grow,” said Gilford, who moved to Seattle six years ago after serving in the military in California. “He’s a strong kid.”
Gilford said that strength comes from Robinson’s difficult childhood.
“Mentally, look at what he’s been through,” Gilford said. “He’s a 14-year-old kid who had to bury both parents. So he refuses to quit; he values life too much.
“He’s constantly working. I don’t think there’s anybody who outworks him.”
Just to get to practice with the Marysville-Pilchuck team this winter, Robinson had to work hard. His 90-minute commute from the Reservation to MPHS often included a half-mile run — with backpack full of books and gym bag in tow — to make it to practice on time.
“He made this happen,” said Tony Hatch, a Tulalip Heritage teacher who assists the M-P wrestling program. “… He works hard, but he’s also one of those weirdoes who’s just a natural. He isn’t afraid of the work.”
Hatch added that Robinson promised earlier this year that he would outdo the Tulalip Heritage 2006-07 boys basketball team, which made it to the state final but came up one win short of a title.
“I feel like a lot of people are behind me,” Robinson said. “My family’s here, and I feel like a big part of the tribe is watching.”
Robinson said he was proud to represent the Tulalip tribe and his high school, but a part of him wishes he could compete with MPHS in the 4A classification.
“I want to be there,” said Robinson, who will face Woodruff in a Mat Classic final at 5 p.m. today at the Tacoma Dome. “I see kids I’ve beaten (in Class 4A) doing well, and I know I could take third or fourth — at least.”
Asked whether he thought his biological parents might be watching from above, Robinson shrugged and said: “I’ve never thought of it like that. Maybe my dad is. If they are, they’re probably proud of me.”
Robinson was one of only two local wrestlers from B schools to make it to the finals. Darrington’s Conner Rounds also advanced to the championship round of the 215-pound weight class Friday. Rounds (29-0) will take his unbeaten record into a championship match against Reardon’s Rory Beckstrom at 9 p.m. today.
Rounds’ teammate, 119-pound favorite Johnny Loughnan, was upset in the semifinal round. The only other wrestler of Darrington’s eight qualifiers to win in the first round was 215-pound Matthias Metzger, who eventually lost to teammate Rounds in the semifinals. It marked the first time the teammates have wrestled each other in an official match.
“We’ve been good friends, so I hated to put him out like that,” said Rounds, a 2007 state finalist at 189 pounds. “I felt bad doing it.”
In the 2A bracket, Cedarcrest 171-pounder Brady Paxman advanced to the semifinals and improved to 40-1 with a pair of Friday pins. Archbishop Murphy’s Brad Gee also recorded back-to-back pins on the way to the 189-pound semifinals.
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