THE RISING COST OF EVERYTHING: Soaring Inflation Forcing Gillette Family to Make Tough Choices

Statewide wrestling champ forgoes national meet while half the family stays home

By Jennifer Kocher

Special to the Wyoming Truth

GILLETTE, Wyo. ­– In the face of record-high inflation and historic gas prices, Antonio Avila had a hard choice to make. The 16-year-old, two-time state wrestling champion from Gillette was given the option to attend national wrestling tournaments in North Carolina or Iowa in  October. Both attract college scouts from across the country, and a scholarship to an NCAA Division 1 program is potentially on the line. In the past, Avila would have attended both for maximum exposure.

“He chose Iowa,” Ashlee, his mother, told the Wyoming Truth.

AshLee Avila celebrates one of her son’s wrestling victories in 2021. Antonio, a junior at Thunder Basin High School, is starting the college recruiting process. (Courtesy photo from AshLee Avila)

Antonio made the decision based on cost, even though the Super 32 Challenge in North Carolina is more prestigious and will draw more scouts. He just entered his junior year at Thunder Basin High School, so he is now eligible to be recruited under NCAA rules.  

“It’s his crucial year,” AshLee said, “and we really wanted to get him out there as much as possible.”

There’s a reason for this: Antonio was the Wyoming wrestling champion in the 113-pound class as a freshman and the 126-pound class as a sophomore. This year, he will wrestle in the 132 or 138-pound division and is expected to clinch a third state title. Competing in meets outside Wyoming is essential to Antonio’s being noticed by big schools.  

Antonio likely will be a standout at the recruiting showcase in Iowa, AshLee said, so that’s a plus. He doesn’t have his sights set on any particular college, but hopes to secure a full-ride scholarship to a school with a veterinary medicine program.  

Another bonus to the Iowa tournament: AshLee can drive two of Antonio’s teammates, whose parents can’t afford the travel costs to attend.

This is a new dynamic ushered in by skyrocketing gas prices. Where wrestling families used to caravan to meets in separate vehicles, now parents take turns driving the athletes while more than half of their family members stay home.

“It’s cheaper to give your child a little bit of gas money and say, ‘You’re going with so and so,’” AshLee said.

That’s been the hardest part for the Avilas, who enjoyed traveling together and cheering on Antonio as a family. This will be the first national tournament that AshLee’s husband, Tony, and 8-year-old son, Armando, will miss. On Saturday, it’s AshLee’s turn to drive Antonio and two of his teammates to a meet in Denver. Tony and Armando will stay home for that one, too, and get updates via AshLee.

“I feel really sad about it, but you can only do so much,” AshLee said. 

Up until six months ago, the Avilas were living comfortably on two incomes. AshLee, 38, is a hairstylist and Tony, 41, is a mechanic at Komatsu, a heavy equipment company. Together they earn around $150,000 a year, which is nearly double the median national household income. 

Prior to the escalating inflation, the family might attend three wrestling tournaments per year. Last October, they traveled to one in Virginia Beach, Va., for half of what it would cost to fly to North Carolina next month.  

“We just can’t afford it now,” AshLee said, ticking off a list of expenses. 

Plane tickets from Denver to Greensboro, N.C.—after a 343-mile one-way drive from Gillette to the airport—are $600 a pop for a total of $2,400 before they fuel their car. Add to this a basic hotel room, with double beds for the family, and the price tag would have climbed an additional $800 to $900 for five days.  

“This doesn’t even include food or a rental car,” AshLee pointed out.  

Wrestling expenses aside, the Avilas feel the pain of inflation across the board. The family’s grocery bill has doubled from $300 a month to between $500 to $600 since the spring. To compensate, they ditched their $150 monthly cable bill and stopped eating at restaurants.  

Meanwhile at the hair salon, AshLee is paying more for color and other products. But she isn’t willing to pass the extra costs on to her customers—at least not yet.

AshLee isn’t sure who to blame for the skyrocketing fuel prices and inflation, but she sees no respite in sight. “[President] Biden just keeps giving more money away, so inflation is only going to get worse,” she said. “This is hard on everyone, and hard-working American families are really suffering.”

She’s praying it won’t hurt Antonio’s chances for a college scholarship.

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