Pinning hate on the mat

Anthony was no ordinary teenager.

At his California high school, Michael Anthony Castro became a fullback and linebacker for the Banning High Broncos when the team's starting quarterback was ruled academically ineligible. At 6-foot-2, 210-pounds, Anthony volunteered to play quarterback. That season he was named captain of the team and all-conference player in that position. Throughout high school Anthony was a member of the wrestling squad and captain of the swim team.

But Anthony was no ordinary teenager.

As a sophomore, he could no longer deny who he was. Anthony was gay.

Ordinary. At the age of 16 -- when kids conform to cliques and gauge their existence through the day's gossip -- Anthony knew who he was. But more importantly, he didn't care who else did. He risked everything by declaring himself gay, and the kids in his high school, who insulated their insecurities with insults, let Anthony know that the remainder of his high school days would not be easy. His home life was not a refuge, either. When Anthony came out, his mother kicked him out. His father buried himself behind the bars of a five-by-nine-foot cell. But, unfazed and unabashed, Anthony kept smiling, as radiant as the California sun he basked in every day. Anthony shined on.

One day shortly thereafter, at wrestling practice, one of his teammates hounded Anthony with homophobic hate. Anthony handled it the only way he knew how. He looked the guy dead in the eye and said "Why don't we take this on the mat?"

The problem was the bully was big, and he wrestled in Banning High's heaviest weight division. That problem was no problem for Anthony. In 20 seconds he pinned his oppressor. The next day, his teammate quit wrestling.

Ordinary. Some kids have beauty on their outsides while others have strength. Anthony had both. Some kids have beauty on their insides while others have strength. Anthony had both.

On Jan. 21, 19-year-old Anthony was a passenger in a pickup truck when the driver lost control of the vehicle and it fell more than 120 feet into a ravine. Anthony and another passenger were killed. The driver survived with several broken bones.

Billy Joel was right. Only the good die young, and Anthony was pure good. Good, not because he came out of the closet -- that is a brave step many kids continue to take. Good, not because he excelled at three sports -- high schools across America and across time recycle those athletes. Good, not because he completed high school without his parents, without even a quiet complaint -- these homeless heroes see rock bottom and climb right back up.

Anthony was pure good because he looked fear in the eye, as he did the bully, and pinned it on its ass. At age 16, Anthony could have cruised through high school crippled by the fear of being openly accepted, but closed in the closet. Instead, at 16, when the great masses follow the stupid few, Anthony stood out, came out and walked in the opposite direction.

Ordinary. His days are done, but Anthony's spirit lives on as a testament against the intolerant. Meanwhile, death remains a vast unknown that raises more questions than answers. Why would God take such a beautiful human being so early in his life? How could such a bright light fade in its infancy? No one knows, but not even a boy with an autonomous presence and an athletic prowess could slip through death's grip.

As a result, an angel named Michael Anthony Castro rests in heaven, and the world is an uglier place without him.

You see, Anthony was no ordinary teenager.

No, he was extraordinary.

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