COLUMBIA, Mo. — It was a conversation Steve Goudy will never forget.
It was the summer of 2009 and Goudy, then in his first stint as wrestling coach at Troy Christian High School, opened his door to find B.J. Toal standing in front of him. Toal, who had just finished second in the Ohio state junior high wrestling championships the previous school year and was expected to be a force for Goudy as a freshman that winter, wanted to talk with his coach about some pressing matters in his life.
Goudy thought perhaps Toal had dropped by to discuss training techniques or possibly work on some moves. He couldn’t possibly have predicted what would happen next.
“He had just spent that summer at church camp in North Carolina,” Goudy said. “He told me he had spent a lot of time thinking and praying that summer and said he didn’t feel like he had his priorities in order. He said he didn’t want to wrestle that year and he wanted to spend the time he would have spent training in the Word, growing with God.
“At the time, my flesh was screaming. I wanted to tell him that I would help him in his spiritual journey and that I would help tutor him or do Bible study with him or do whatever it took. But far be it from me to put myself in God’s place. So he ended up not wrestling that year. That was his decision and he stuck to it. That’s just the kind of person B.J. Toal was.”
The Troy Christian and wrestling communities were shocked Monday when Toal, 23, son of Bruce and Catherine Toal, of Sidney, passed away Monday from medical complications following an apparent accident he suffered in the early morning hours of April 1, according to a police report in the Columbia Daily Tribune. An officer observed two men in a verbal altercation. When the officer approached them, one of the men ran away and the other talked to the officer. Toal was found in an alley with a laceration to his head from falling down. He was transported to the hospital where he was in intensive care for 10 days before dying Monday evening.
Toal was living in Columbia, Missouri, and was an assistant wrestling coach at Battle High School in Columbia.
“Too young,” Goudy said of Toal’s passing. “The hardest part for me has been getting calls from my former wrestlers from the past who are trying to understand this and trying to make sense of it. The Toal family is such a giving family — they have done so much for so many people over the years. They are some of the most spiritual and giving people I know. It’s hard to understand.”
After not wrestling his freshman year at Troy Christian, Total returned to the sport with a vengeance his sophomore year under coach Ty Morgan, who replaced Goudy that winter when Goudy stepped away as head coach. Goudy would return to coaching four years later and currently serves as the team’s head coach.
“I remember the first time I met B.J., Coach Goudy had invited me down to check out the facilities and the first time I met B.J., he was drilling with his best friend, Jordan Marshall,” Morgan said. “He introduced himself to me and he was very humble and very respectful. Everything was, ‘Yes, sir. No, sir.’ That’s the kind of kid he was. I think as long as I knew him, he continued to call me sir.
“He was one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met. Every practice we had, he gave it everything he had, whether it was drills, weight or sprints. He also had to deal with a lot of injuries. His sophomore year, he had a kneecap that kept sliding out of place. I knew he was in an immense amount of pain, but he wouldn’t quit. He wanted to keep going. He would still run every sprint. He kept wrestling that entire year, all the way up to the state championship match. He is a kid who didn’t fear anybody. He didn’t fear competition. He wanted to go out there and compete against the best.”
Toal, competing at 171 pounds, was a Division III state runner-up as a sophomore. He would capture back-t0-back state titles at 182 pounds as a junior and senior. As a senior, he also helped lead the Eagles to a Division III state team championship. Following his graduation, Toal, a 2013 Troy Christian graduate, would follow his older brother Zach — a three-time state champion for the Eagles — to the University of Missouri, where they both would wrestle for the Eagles.
“I remember meeting B.J. when he was in eighth grade,” Missouri coach Brian Smith said in a statement released by the university. “I joked with his older brother Zach that he was stronger than him and I knew I would recruit him even though he wasn’t in high school yet. He came in with a great recruiting class, and we had high expectations, but unfortunately injuries kept him from reaching those expectations.
“The great thing about B.J. was he continued to share his passion for wrestling through coaching and other avenues. He impacted so many other people’s lives, just like he impacted ours. The TigerStyle family is going through a tough time right now, my biggest prayers are with his family helping them get through this.”
Toal would redshirt his freshman year for the Tigers, but went 17-7 in open tournaments. He suffered a back injury the next year that appeared to have ended his college wrestling career, but Goudy said Toal — who continued to take classes at Missouri while coaching at Battle — actually was in training for a possible comeback.
“B.J. actually came back at Christmas to train with us,” Goudy said. “He got in a lot of work with our big guys and would talk to our kids, then he’d go over and start crushing the weights. After he hurt his back, one doctor told him he would have to step away from the sport. But then more recently, he had another doctor tell him he would be OK to compete again.”
Morgan said Toal leaves a lasting legacy behind.
“I feel very fortunate I was able to get to know B.J. and his family,” he said. “This is hard to accept. He was such a special kid. He’s someone I’ll never forget.”
Goudy said he’s heard from a number of Toal’s former teammates — many of whom have sought out their former coach for answers why this happened.
“I can’t answer why,” Goudy said. “All I know is God’s word calls us to pray, so that’s what we are doing. God is not the author of this. I’m telling my guys, ‘If you want to honor B.J. Toal, you need to walk with the Lord and take as many guys with you as you can.’ That’s how you honor someone like B.J. Toal.”
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong