Utah student with Down syndrome wrestles at state tournament

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TROPIC, Utah -- When state championships are on the line, it's hard to focus on other priorities.

But a group of Utah high school wrestlers made it clear they care about more than winning.

A boy with Down syndrome named Payton wrestled in a match that mattered as much as any championship final. It’s a feeling many high school wrestlers never get the chance to experience, winning a match at the state tournament.

Even the ref had tears in his eyes as 17-year-old Payton Johnson celebrated his win.

“He has a very special spirit of innocence and love and that touches people’s hearts,” said Payton’s coach, Carlon Johnson.

Payton’s parents said it’s a great atmosphere for their son to be in.

“It's really awesome,” Payton’s mother, Tracy, said. “It’s really good to see people with disabilities be included, and I’m glad that people are excited about it.”

His teammates call him the backbone of the Bryce Valley wrestling team because he makes practice fun.

“He’s just like a fun person to wrestle with,” Teammate Adam Platt said. “He’s probably my favorite person on the whole team to wrestle with.”

Walker Smith from Escalante High School has wrestled Payton in the past, and even though he lets him win, he said getting pinned by Payton never feels like a loss.

“Everybody’s excited when Payton gets a pin,” Smith said. “When he wins, it’s always exciting for everybody. Everybody’s always happy about it.”

Payton’s mom said he’s the healthiest he’s ever been thanks to the sport. But win or lose, for Payton's parents the best part of watching their son wrestle is seeing him being treated like everyone else.

“You look at his face and watch his eyes and they just glow because there no difference between him and his teammates,” Payton’s father, Moyle Johnson, said.

Because Payton is in special education classes, he's able to stay in high school a little longer. His parents aren't sure when he'll graduate, but they're pretty certain he'll be affiliated with wrestling for many years to come.

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