For a couple of kids who began their careers on hand-me-down mats in their parents’ backyard nearly a decade ago, it was a long time coming. And, they hope, only the start of a trend.
“It was unbelievable,” Marco said. “All that hard work. When you see your friend and your brother succeed alongside you, that just feels amazing. There’s nothing that can explain that feeling.”
Added Gator: “Now it just means that we have more goals to get to. Like four titles. Hopefully.”
Gator, who is named after his father, McClintock coach Robert Groves, goes by Bobby to friends and family but inherited his reptilian wrestling nickname from his dad, who was seeking a slick-sounding moniker for his first-born son when he watched him perform the classic gator roll takedown technique.
“He just came up with the name one day,” Gator said. “He liked the alliteration.”
Marco didn’t get a nickname but did get some retribution for losing the tight race out of the delivery chute to his brother, growing taller and faster than Gator from early on in their childhoods. Today, Marco stands 5-foot-10 while Gator checks in at 5-foot-7.
When they were young, the boys would wrestle each other as well as the family bulldog, grappling on old mats salvaged from Phoenix Camelback, where Robert coached at the time.
They enjoyed the informal battles but neither liked to lose, so in competitions Marco would generally wrestle at a higher weight to avoid any head-to-head confrontations.
“Usually, if that happened,” Marco said, “one of us would just forfeit.”
As they grew, the Groves performed well enough to travel to national wrestling events, racking up medals and trophies from junior competitions around the country.
Robert is quick to point out the influence of his wife, Angela, who helped keep the boys grounded and focused on the other half of the student-athlete equation, enrolling them in the Peggy Payne Academy, McClintock’s gifted-students program.
When they got to high school, the Groves were more than ready on the wrestling mat. Gator went 52-1 last season while Marco finished 47-4, both shattering McClintock’s previous wins record of 44.
Gator again got first crack at glory at the state tournament, defeating Yuma Cibola’s Josh Olson 7-3 for the 120-pound title.
Marco’s final victory was considerably more dramatic, as the first-year wrestler scored a four-point maneuver in the closing seconds to stun defending champion Kyle Ford of Yuma Gila Ridge, beating the senior 9-8 to join his brother and complete the historical day.
“I was so nervous. I was biting my nails the whole time,” Gator said of watching Marco’s match. “I thought he was about to lose. He would’ve been so upset, and I wouldn’t have felt good about it either, having all the glory. I was so happy we both made it.”
More than winning titles, even more than making history, the twins and their father have had their eyes set on one goal: a college scholarship.
Robert received one when he wrestled at Arizona Western and then Idaho State in the 1980s, and from the beginning set out to help his sons traverse similar paths.
“I’m just here to show them, ‘Hey, this is what you can do,’ ” Robert said. “‘I don’t know how to play baseball, don’t know too much about football, but I do know a lot about wrestling, and I can help you. Maybe you’re not going to like it, but let’s give it a try.’ ”
The Groves boys are fraternal twins, and possess contrasting personalities that carry over into their wrestling styles – Gator is more reserved, cerebral and calculating on the mat. Marco is outgoing and aggressive, always ready to strike first.
No matter whether those differences lead to their paths diverging after their time at McClintock is through, or if they end up together again at the next level, their bond is secure.
And if one twin finds himself in a tough spot, or just feeling lonely after a long day, he can take comfort.
He’ll know he won’t be alone for long.