Records are made to be broken.
But in the case of Colby Dean’s four consecutive VHSL Group A wrestling championships, it’s an accomplishment that can be matched, but never topped.
Dean earned admission into an exclusive club when he eked out a 5-4 decision over Parry McCluer’s Nathan Tomlin in the finals of the 145-pound division in Salem last month. Only two other Group A wrestlers have ever won four state titles in the commonwealth of Virginia.
For many, the J.I. Burton wrestler was already a larger-than-life figure by the time he walked onto the mat to face Tomlin in the final match of his high school career.
When opponents finally caught a glimpse of him, Dean made quite an impression.
“I’ve had multiple people come up and say they were scared going into the match because they’ve heard everything I’ve done,” he said. “But I’ve had a lot of people be surprised at my appearance because the way people talk about me.
“They build me up to be some huge bodybuilder-looking dude, but I’m just an average looking guy.”
But on the night of Dean’s final prep match, he found himself standing across the mat with someone who knew him all too well. Dean and Tomlin met in the state meet back in 2012 when Dean won a 4-1 decision en route to his third consecutive state title.
With a year to think about the rematch, Tomlin came prepared to exact some revenge.
“This year he kind of knew what my tendencies were, I guess,” Dean said. “Besides the two takedowns, he was kind of able to neutralize my offense. It was harder to score and made it more of a low-scoring match — a really close one.”
Facing a familiar opponent, Dean leaned on the attribute that really sets him apart from the pack. It’s not the muscles — it’s the stubborn determination he claims he inherited from his parents.
“My dad is a very strong-willed person,” Dean said. “He doesn’t really give up, kind of like my mom. I guess it’s just trickled down to me.”
Dean’s father, Shawn, is not only Burton’s wrestling coach, he also won back-to-back titles of his own while competing for Castlewood in 1989 and 1990. Dean’s mom? She’s an assistant on her husband Shawn’s staff at Burton.
Colby Dean was stoic as the first period unfolded in Salem, masking the pressure that had been accumulating since he won his first state title as a freshman. Finally, he saw his opening and made the most of it.
“I got that first takedown in the first period and it was a huge relief because once you get a takedown, your nerves go away,” Dean said. “It kind of gets your confidence up.
“I didn’t really get frustrated much because all of my state finals matches have been decided by one or two points,” he continued. “I just tried my best to stay calm and not let anything get to me.”
By the time the final horn sounded, relief washed over Dean as one of his lifelong dreams came true. He was almost instantly gathered up in the embrace of the community in which he grew up.
“There are people I don’t even know that came up and hugged me,” Dean said. “They told me they were from Norton. Salem is three hours away from Norton, and for them to make that trip, that just shows a community we have. Norton is a really, really tight-knit city compared to other places.”
But the moment was also bittersweet, because it marked the end of Dean’s high school career. He’ll leave Norton behind in the fall when he heads off to Duke, where he received a full scholarship to wrestle collegiately.
“The only bad part is that I’m done with high school,” Dean said. “I’m looking forward to college, but college is a whole different level.”
Dean may have closed the book on his prep career, but one thing is certain — the VHSL record book will always have his name etched onto its pages.