Hamilton High School junior Justin Hinson often wears a T-shirt with the Superman logo.
This 17-year-old man-of-steel is taking top honors at submission tournaments in the adult division.
“I like wrestling because of the rush it gives,” Hinson said. “I like physical stuff and staying active. I like to compete and am very competitive. I will admit I like to win and am a poor loser.”
Hinson joined Little Guy Wrestling in fifth grade and has made dramatic strides. He has competed every year since then, but one.
Hinson was in a car accident his sophomore year that took him out of competition for a time, but he came back strong.
In this year’s high school wrestling season, he had a 48-2 record, was divisional champion and took third at state. His goal is to be next year’s state champion.
A year ago, he took on the challenge of additional training in Mixed Martial Arts, which is full-contact combat that uses striking and grappling that’s done standing and on the mat. For some of the matches competitors wear the uniform of the event called a gi.
Hinson competed in Montana and Idaho tournaments where he was moved to a higher level of competition due to his size. He took first in the men’s division in Bozeman, first in the blue belt category in Coeur d’Alene against men with three or four years more experience.
On April 23, Hinson became the Northwest Submission Challenge Men’s GI and NOGI Beginner Absolute Champion in Boise, Idaho. The tournament drew over 600 competitors from Utah, Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Montana. Hinson took first place competing in the men’s category that had 36 men. Jiu jitsu does not consider age, just weight, for bracketing. The men were age 18 to 35.
Hinson recalled the intensive tournament.
“I was exhausted because it was all day,” he said. “At the end there was one more matchup but I was running on empty. One of the guys I trained with said, ‘you’re going to let someone else get the belt?’ I just went down and did it. The end of the tournament it was all heart and the will to win.”
Hinson took the championship. He was awarded two belts and three gold medals.
“The belts are heavy and solid, leather and metal and I was like wow, pretty cool,” he said. “I had both of them on my arm and three medals on my neck and thought wow.”
Hinson said his training in wrestling helped him get the win and he credits Chad Williams and JayMe Depee, his high school wrestling coaches.
“My strategy was to use wrestling while on my feet and when I would go down I would use jiu jitsu,” Hinson said. “It’s anything to get them on the ground and submit them. I’m pretty excited for another year of high school wrestling. Every time I go on the mat with jiu jitsu, I can’t wait for wrestling to come back.”
Hinson said his training in jiu jitsu has given him additional skills for wrestling.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without jiu jitsu because it helps with body control,” he said. “Being able to use your hips in different ways to hold your opponent down or just being smart about it. If you’re not careful you’ll break something. It sticks with me. Jiu jitsu is like a mind game that helps you learn body language and counter whatever your opponent is going to do.”
Hinson’s mixed martial arts trainers are Peter Lacavazzi and Brandon Olsen, owner of the Dog Pound gym and four-time national champion. Hinson trains an hour and a half a day three to four times a week in the Dog Pound – Sylvio Behring Sports & Recreation gym in Hamilton. Hinson was sponsored by Marley’$ Bar and Casino in Hamilton.
Hinson said the support of his trainers and family are the keys to his success.
“Having my coaches and family behind me, pushing me, going to tournaments and being there for me has made it possible,” he said.
Hinson leads a busy life. He has golden retrievers, maintains a job, spends time at the gym and goes to school. He has competed in football as quarterback and tight end. He has another year of high school and then hopes to wrestle in college while studying wildlife biology.
“I want to be in the outdoors and be a game warden or something,” he said.