In a sport like wrestling, where technical expertise and physical advantages tangle with passion, pride and motivation, there is one Castleton University Spartan who stands out as a leader.
When Michell LaFlam isn’t pinning his opponent from Western New England with 52 seconds remaining in the second period in front of a packed house at Glenbrook Gymnasium, you can see him smiling, laughing and constantly being grateful for the blessings and opportunities in his life.
One of those blessings is being recognized as Castleton’s first wrestler to record 100 career wins.
Over 100 times in what is about to be four years, LaFlam has stood tall in the center of the mat with his arm raised high.
“Getting my 100th win was really, really special to me because you know, it was in the home gym and like, it’s kinda bad, but I was nervous that the crowd wasn’t going to be excited for me,” LaFlam said. “I love the school and I love everybody that comes out to support me, but they went nuts, dude! Everybody was clapping, they clapped for like a minute straight and to me that meant so much, more than the wrestling side of things.”
LaFlam is the type of person who is constantly analyzing and evaluating his performance on and off the mat.
The business management major concentrating in marketing with coaching minor often asks himself a question to keep him in a straight-line trajectory toward satisfaction.
“I always look at my life and I think, ‘have I been successful? Have I done the things that I need to do to really consider myself successful?’”
While he was sleeping earlier this year, LaFlam had a moment of reassurance that he was “doing the right thing.” A friend called and woke him up telling him to check his school email.
LaFlam, confused and anxious, was relieved when the message revealed positive news.
“So, I go on my email, and I got inducted into the International Business Honor Society, Sigma Beta Delta,” LaFlam said with a proud smile. “Sometimes, for me, I feel like things off the wrestling mat, to be successful in them are like, more important. And the fact that I’ve had success in wrestling and in academics is really important to me.”
When it comes to establishing a solid foundation and relationship with his head coach, Scott Legacy, LaFlam has been a perfect example for future Spartan wrestlers to follow in his footsteps.
“I would say it’s like a father-son relationship on an adult level, coach and peer,” Legacy said. “Like any athlete that is as successful as Mitch, there is always ups and downs, and my relationship with him was to get Mitch to put things in the rear-view mirror and keep moving onward and upward, which he has successfully done.”
Reflecting on LaFlam’s career at Castleton, Legacy mentioned Mitchell’s own legacy for the young wrestling program.
“ Mitch is part of the first team that came in. His legacy will be many, not just one,” Legacy added. “First athlete to wrestle all four years and win 100 matches, carrying above a 3.0 each semester at CU, providing strong leadership and willing to mentor younger athletes, strong community member on campus, involved in many things and a three-year captain. He cares about every member of our team and all of the support staff. Mitch loves wrestling and that will be a never-ending legacy.”
Max Tempel, the second wrestler to reach the 100-win mark shortly after LaFlam did, spoke about his gratitude and respect for his best friend.
“Mitchell’s probably the most vocal leader on our team,” said Tempel, a senior from Averill Park, New York. “He’s always pushing guys in the room, always being loud for his teammates, and he really brings that energy to the room and our matches. I think I’ll remember Mitchell as a dedicated individual… he never half-asses anything.”
LaFlam recalls an experience when he was a little kid and beginning to learn the fundamentals and lessons of the sport that he loves. After losing a match, he blamed the loss on his father
“I told my dad he gave me the wrong headgear, and then I whipped him with my pants. Looking back on it, I guess it’s pretty embarrassing because my dad just wants nothing more than to see me succeed and have fun in wrestling … then he spanked me!” LaFlam said laughing. “Someone said to him, ‘you can’t spank him!’ And then one of the guys he coached with said ‘he brought him into this world, he can spank him if he wants!’”
The 197 pounder has high expectations with only five matches left in the regular season, including becoming a winner at both the Regional tournament and at Nationals.
At the end of the day, LaFlam wants to be remembered as more than an athlete.
“I would rather be remembered as the kid who was always making everybody laugh, always having a good time and was super well-rounded,” he said. “When you’re in my circle, I try to make sure I take care of my people, and that’s something I always try to value about myself.”
At the end of the interview, LaFlam wanted to make one thing clear to the Castleton faithful and people around the world as he looks to depart for future endeavors.
“Everybody calls me ‘Mitch,’ and I’ve never liked being called ‘Mitch,’ but I never really told anybody,” LaFlam said with a smile on his face. “It’s Mitchell.”