New details on death of Iowa high school wrestler

Tributes are pouring in as new details emerge in the death of Austin Roberts, 18-year-old Iowa high school wrestler who died after participating in a tournament in his home gym at Spencer High School Saturday night.

Austin Roberts
The 6'4" Roberts was wrestling in the 220-pound championship match at the Spencer Invitational Wrestling Tournament against Sioux Center's Ko Kieft when the Spencer senior took injury time late in the third period.

"With about 30 seconds left in the match we ran out of bounds and then came back in to reset," Sioux Center Coach Aaron Schmidt told the Sioux City Journal . "The score was tied and we were on bottom and got set and he went to get on top of us and asked for injury time.

"It seemed like he was not quite able to catch his breath ... it wasn't anything that was alarming or anything serious at that point."

Roberts was unable to continue to wrestle after injury time expired and met Kieft to shake his hand after losing by injury default. Schmidt said that he did not notice any action out of the ordinary for a wrestling match that occurred between the two wrestlers.

"Not a single thing," Schmidt told the Des Moines Register. "No slam, no hit heads, nothing. It was about as clean and classy as can be. It was one of those matches people would've continued to watch at the state tournament if it had been down there."

"I really don't know what happened. It looked like things were going OK and then all of a sudden he was on the floor like there was nothing there left to give like he was completely worn out," said Gwen Kardell, Sacred Heart Catholic Church Director of Faith Formation and Youth Ministry.

Roberts' father said his son had never collapsed before.

"That's the hard part. He has never had any warning signs. We don't understand what happened," Travis Roberts, Austin's father, told NBC News . "One minute he was competing for the championship and was doing fine. The third period started and he just went down and never got back up."

Austin Roberts was tended to on the mat by emergency medical personnel, then rushed to Spencer Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at approximately 9 p.m. Central time.

Meanwhile, the community gathered to mourn and share their recollections of their fallen friend.
Spencer Community Schools Superintendent Terry Hemann described Austin Roberts as "a bigger-than-life kid, he's a big 6" 4', 220 pound gentle giant."

"He wouldn't hurt a flea," Hemann continued. "One thing you know about Austin is when he's in the room because of his big, deep laugh, he had a positive impact on his classmates, friends."
"He was such a great kid to be around," Hemann said. "In 40 years of being involved in wrestling, this was a shock to me. It was completely new to me."

Spencer High School head football coach Jim Tighe described Roberts as a nice kid, a hard worker who was always ready to help another.

"He was engaging," Tighe said. "You couldn't help but like him. Everyone liked him."

Roberts' wrestling coaches paid tribute to the wrestler who had placed eighth in the 220-pound bracket in Class 2A competition earlier this year at the Iowa high school state wrestling championships in Des Moines, his first trip to the tournament, after compiling a 47-12 record as a junior. He won 14 matches in a row this senior year.

"He had a large heart with a personality that could light up the room," Spencer High mat coaches said in a statement. "We have had the great opportunity to watch Austin grow in recent years from a young child to mature young adult. His attitude about wrestling and football was second only to his attitude about life.

"Through wrestling we saw his personality change from a shy, quiet kid into a confident, outgoing person, who others on the team and in the school could look up to."

Reynold Peterson, mayor of Spencer, a community of approximately 11,000 in northwest Iowa perhaps best-known as being the hometown to Dewey the Library Cat immortalized in a series of popular books, said Roberts' death was a tragic loss for the community.

"He was a fine young individual in the community and school," Reynolds said. "There's been a tremendous response; it has been a total shock."

As for cause of death ... KEYC-TV of Mankato, Minn, reported that Roberts died of natural causes, according to a preliminary investigation by the state medical examiner's office. However, an autopsy and laboratory analysis will be performed to determine the official cause of death.

Visitation for Austin Michael Alan Roberts will begin Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Sunday with the family present from 3 to 5 p.m. at Spencer High School Gymnasium in Spencer. Funeral services will be held Monday, Dec. 28 at 10:30 a.m. at Spencer High School Gymnasium.

In the meantime, the community has established a page to accept donations for medical and funeral expenses. As of Tuesday evening, over $43,000 had been raised.


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