BY MICHAEL KELLY
ALBANY — Kevin Parker left nothing to chance in his final days as a high school wrestler.
His opponents? They had no chance.
In picking up his second state championship in as many years, the Shenendehowa senior capped an incredible two-year stretch with two days of brilliance at the Feb. 26-27 state tournament. In his three pre-finals matches at the Times Union Center, Parker won three matches by a combined 46-0. In the Division I 182-pound final, he coasted to a 13-4 victory against Alexander Melikian of Section I’s Lakeland/Panas.
“It’s surreal,” Shenendehowa head coach Rob Weeks said of watching Parker’s last high school match. “I’ve said it to Kevin all along [that] when this season comes to an end, it will be an end of a long era for me.”
Parker started his high school wrestling career as a seventh-grade boy in the 96-pound division, and finished it as a 182-pound man with three Section II titles, two state championships and 215 career wins.
“It’s all you can ask for,” Parker said of his final win. “When you’re in these years in high school, winning something like this means the world to you. It’s exciting to be able to finish out my career how I wanted to. When you’re younger, you kind of take your lumps and you don’t really know what’s going to happen when you’re older — you just work hard, be diligent, and [hope] it will turn out.”
Weeks said his first memory of Parker was him as a “cute little kid” at wrestling tournaments. Parker was a known commodity as young as 5 years old because he was the younger brother of Greg Parker, who won a state title in 1996 for Shenendehowa before going on to a highly successful collegiate career at Princeton University.
“The joke is that I learned to walk on wrestling mats,” Kevin Parker said. “But I’m pretty sure I didn’t. That’s not true.”
But it is a believable idea. Parker won his first Section II title as an eighth-grader in the 99-pound division. He experienced some growing pains as a freshman and sophomore wrestler, but stayed on track to become a superstar in his final high school years once he became more comfortable in his body.
“When he added that muscle, he already had a lot of skill. A great base,” said Parker’s brother, now 34 years old.
“His style has always remained the same,” Weeks said. “He hit a bit of a speed bump when he was growing into his body, but he’s so strong now.”
That style for Parker, whose 2015 state title came at 170 pounds, was honed working with his older brother. Capable of seemingly anything on the mat, Parker’s signature strength these past couple years has been an ability to smother opponents by subduing them to the ground before methodically accruing points.
“It’s a little Parker family secret,” he said of the move he’s perfected.
“He’s like a boa constrictor,” Weeks said. “I’ve been in that position with him, and I feel bad for the kids that are there. It’s humiliating.”
Nobody’s held too much of a grudge against Parker for that style — or anything, really. For as long as Parker has been involved in area wrestling, Niskayuna head coach Shaun Neely can’t remember ever hearing a negative thing about him.
“He’s the kid that everyone wants to help,” Neely said. “Kevin’s the epitome of the coachable kid.”
Parker gave back, too. Kiernan Shanahan, a Shenendehowa freshman who also went to the state championships this year, said he remembered initially being a little intimidated as an eighth-grader when he worked out alongside Parker.
That lasted for all of a practice or two, only as long as it took him to get to know his older teammate a little bit.
“He just helps out everyone in the room,” Shanahan said. “That’s what he does. He’s a very welcoming person.”
Kevin Parker’s results from the Feb. 26-27 Division I 182-pound tournament at the wrestling state championships.
FIRST ROUND: Win via 16-0 technical fall vs. Brandyn Whitacre (Jamestown-VI)
QUARTERFINALS: Win via 15-0 technical fall vs. Cameron Caldarelli (Brockport-V)
SEMIFINALS: Win via 15-0 technical fall vs. Tyreek Bromley (Long Beach-VIII)
CHAMPIONSHIP: Win via 13-4 major decision vs. Alexander Melikian (Lakeland/Panas-I)
Like his brother, the 17-year-old Parker will wrestle in college for Princeton University. After growing up watching his brother compete for the Tigers, Parker said it is still tough to fathom he’ll soon be the one on collegiate mats
“It’s amazing,” Parker said. “You spend your childhood watching him and thinking, ‘Wow, it’s so long until I’ll ever reach any of those points.’ Now, it’s nice to be on my way there.”
Before that, though, Parker set out to end his high school career on top. With all the help he’d received from so many people — family, friends, coaches, teammates — Parker said he needed one more state title to help repay them. A man on a mission, Parker did not allow an opponent to score a point against him in the state tournament until there were 36 seconds left in his championship match.
At that point, he had a 12-0 lead on his way to a 13-4 victory that capped a 47-1 senior season and a two-year stretch in which he went 93-5. At no point, though, did the senior take securing his final win for granted.
“It’s never easy,” Parker said.
He just made it look that way.