Marek Bush knows how much strength it takes to become a state wrestling champion. More recently, he learned that it can take even more strength to lose.

The lesson came last season when he faced Logan Patterson in an annual meet hosted by Marek’s school, Central Valley Academy in Ilion, N.Y. The two are among the state’s elite wrestlers in the 126-pound class. Marek was 2018 state champion; one of his few losses was to Logan, by a resounding score of 13-1. Logan went on to be a section champion in 2018 but lost to Marek 4-2 in a rematch before the official start of the 2019 season.

When they met again in January, fortunes reversed again and Logan was set up for another dominating win, holding a 7-0 lead with less than a minute left. Victory seemed inevitable until he landed awkwardly on his elbow. Logan cried out in pain, called for the trainer and took the maximum 90-second injury timeout.

Marek initially thought Logan would forfeit and feared the injury could threaten his season. He also realized that he had been thoroughly outwrestled. Though some in the crowd wanted the officials to stop the match, Logan returned, determined to finish. Even with so little time remaining, Marek easily could have pinned him, turning a sure loss into an easy win.

Marek’s coach and father, Bob, said he was ready to step in and offer his son guidance, “but he was one step ahead of me.”

With a nod of “I got this” toward his father, Marek took his spot below Logan and refused to make a move, letting the clock wind down and preserving Patterson’s victory. “He was dominating that match,” Marek said at the time. “He deserved that win.”

His coach wasn’t surprised at Marek’s response. “Proud?” Bob asked rhetorically. “Sure. He knows to do the right thing.”

He and Marek were more surprised by the crowd’s reaction. Marek expected some to view him as weak for not seizing the moment. Instead, spectators rose to their feet and were joined in their cheers by meet officials. Referee Terry Kavanaugh called it “the pinnacle of class.”

Only in hindsight did the crowd’s reaction seem predictable. “Not enough people do the right thing,” Bob said. “You almost have to celebrate it because it doesn’t happen often enough.”

Marek’s initial fears for Logan proved correct. After accumulating a 24-1 match record, Logan’s promising season was over. Marek went on to finish third in the state after losing his semifinal in triple OT. But long after the match, even after the season, the Bush family continued to receive praise − even gifts − for Marek’s display of sportsmanship.

“Every day there was something in the mailbox,” Bob said. “We didn’t know hardly any of the people writing us letters or sending gift cards. We even got a care package from Hawaii with jams and pancake mix.”

After competing in soccer in the fall, Marek returned to the mat. Once again, he expected Logan Patterson to be among his toughest competition.

“Wrestling is a different animal, and there’s normally no room for weakness,” Bob said. “But what Marek did took real strength.”