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#SPORTS: REDISCOVERING A LOVE OF WRESTLING (2021-02-03)

To be clear, the wrestling I’m going to be referring to in this column is high school wrestling.

Scholastic? Collegiate? I’m not even sure what the correct term is for it. I think freestyle is different?

Not the staged, “professional” nonsense you see on TV.  Now, all of you WWE fans don’t get your tank tops in a bunch! There was a time I enjoyed your “wrestling” too. I was 8 years old at the time, but I enjoyed it.

No, the wrestling I’m talking about is the kind you see in our high schools, that so many people in our area live for. Football may be a way of life in Texas, but in Bradford County, Pa. wrestling is King.

That’s why our youth programs are full of kids of all ages, boys and girls. They start very young, at maybe 5 years old?  There aren’t a lot of other athletic options for 5 year olds, so it makes sense.

That’s when I started. In my hand-me-down-singlet and probably a pair of socks.Those amazing, colorful, SO comfortable Asics that you wished you could wear everywhere, came later. My Dad would take my brother and I to wherever the Canton Matmen were practicing that night.

Sometimes the school, usually someone’s house. I remember an attic, somewhere on Minnequa?  That’s the first time I fell in love with wrestling.  What’s a 5-year old kid not to love about it?  Most or all of your buddies are there. You get to pound on each other.  You get to go on trips to tournaments every weekend, with your buddies, pound on other kids and almost always come home with a shiny medal or trophy.  It was awesome!

A few years of that awesomeness passed by, and inevitably, some of those buddies, and my brother, got REALLY good at wrestling.

I did not quite keep up with them. In my defense, these buddies were Routes, Machmers and Wesneskis!  Not a lot of kids *did* keep up with them.

I think I can pinpoint the moment I fell out of love with wrestling. I believe it was when I was 8 or 9 years old.  At a tournament in Athens, I got thumped my first two matches, which meant I was done for the day.  I don’t think it was 10 a.m. yet, and since my brother *always* made the finals in his bracket, I had to stay until he was done.  This had happened before, and it would happen again. But this day, I remember saying it for the first time, “I hate wrestling.”

Now, I’ve said that about other sports, but always out of momentary frustration. I probably say it, oh, 18 times every time I golf. I said it several times after losing 71 of the 72 high school basketball games I played in.

But THIS I meant! I really did start despising the sport of wrestling. I hated going to practices. I hated the smell of the mat room.

Hated getting beat.  Hated watching what I ate. But I stuck with wrestling, and tried to get better.  What options did I have?  There wasn’t anything else to do.

I did OK, won more matches than I lost, mostly by avoiding wrestling at the same weight class as any of my friends.  I didn’t hate wrestling, but I didn’t love it. I just did it, because I didn’t know any different.

Then came Michael Jordan.  Now, obviously I knew basketball existed before 1984, but other than watching a few minutes of a Celtics game with my Dad as we flipped through the channels, I paid little attention to it.

Then, MJ.  He opened my eyes to how beautiful the game of basketball was.

I had a new love.  And frankly, wrestling could pound sand! Brian Shute? Nope, John Stockton.

I’d still go watch my brother wrestle all through high school, and my friends matches after he graduated, but I didn’t enjoy it.

It was nerve-wracking. Squirming around in my seat, leaning into their moves, so nervous ... wait.. did I still like wrestling? No. I was a basketball guy. I HAD to hate wrestling.

Sure, I went to a few matches in college too, but we had a Division I national champion wrestling for us.  I *had* to take advantage of that. I hate to again burst WWE fans’ illusions of their “sport” ... but Kurt Angle was actually a super nice guy. Pretty humble, very personable. Sorry!

But no, I still didn’t like wrestling. I proved that by going 20-plus years without watching a single wrestling match. I coached a bunch of basketball. Started them younger and younger, so maybe kids could have another option when they were little. I raised some kids, and tried to keep them even being aware that wrestling was a sport.

I heard a lot about some local kids that were carrying on the great wrestling legacy around here, but I didn’t go watch. I was a basketball guy. I raised a basketball family. I was fairly confident I would never watch a wrestling match again. Why would I?

Fast-forward several years ... I’m sitting in the cathedral of high school wrestling in Pennsylvania — The Hershey Giant Center. I had agreed to take a few buddies of Troy’s Sheldon Seymour down to watch him repeat as state champion.  As a bonus, a group of Canton boys had made states, and we got to experience the definition of inspiration, watching Timmy Ward take sixth place.

Sitting there, it all came rushing back.  The squirming, leaning into the wrestlers’ moves with them, the anxiousness, and nervousness. Watching the clock tick down *so* slowly when your guy had a lead.

I’m not going to lie … it was awesome!  There’s really no other sport I can think of, while watching, that pulls you in so deeply.

And here I sit, almost a year later, taking pictures at a girls’ basketball game on a Saturday afternoon, with my phone resting on my leg … live-streaming Troy’s wrestling match in Line Mountain.

So, I give in, wrestling. You win!  It’s been awhile, but I hope you’ll welcome me back.

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