The Season From Hell (How Our Team Learned to Swim)

August 26, 2011 at 10:36 pm (High School Sports, Middle School Sports, sports, Uncategorized, Wrestling) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

My favorite Uncle was a Marine who served in Viet Nam, and who, when he returned from war, went into law enforcement.  He was a gruff man on the outside, but loving and very protective.  He taught his two kids to swim at the tender age of five by walking them out to the end of a pier and just throwing them off.  It still sounds horrifying to me, and I could never wrap my head around the concept when my cousin would talk of how she and her brother learned to swim.  “But”, she says, “we didn’t sink, and he was right there to help us if we struggled”.  “And……we learned how to swim”.  Indeed.

Last year was my oldest son’s freshman year of High School.  His Middle School coaches were a gym teacher and a former football coach (from MY time in the same Middle School, 25 years ago), neither of whom were wrestlers.  They meant well, and taught some basics, but our freshman team came to the High School very unprepared.

Our Class A school, who has more wrestlers on “Trophy Row” than any other sport, had a wrestling team of 15 last year.

We started out with a few more, but three upperclassmen quit the team before the first meet for personal reasons.

One of our heavyweight upperclassmen was ineligible to wrestle all year long, until the very last tournament.  He was over weight.

The night of our first meet, one of our other heavyweights broke his leg during warm ups.

At one of our first tournaments we had a boy break a cervical vertebrae and another suffered a concussion, within minutes of each other.

It seemed our poor gimpy team could endure no more.  I think we lost every one of our team meets, because we were so empty in weight classes, there was no way we could catch up to some of the schools with bigger teams.

I think very highly of our High School coaching staff.  They are top notch, and have extremely impressive credentials.  You couldn’t help but feel bad for them as much as the boys, given the circumstances of this season from hell.

Not only did these coaches have a shrinking team of ill-prepared Freshman, the kids had to share their practice room with the competitive cheer team.

That’s right, I said…… Competitive.  Cheer.

The boys kind of thought this was a good gig at first, until they started actually trying to hear what Coach was teaching them.

Despite the bumps and bruises, and what was stacked against them, (literally, in pyramid form), they had promise. They had raw talent, and they had heart.  And if they didn’t have heart when the season began, they sure had it by the end.

Our Coaches had no choice but to throw these kids off the deep end.  The only other option would have been to drop out of the events we were scheduled for, which was of course, a non-option.  Wrestlers wrestle.  So out they went, every Saturday morning and some Wednesday nights, getting torn to shreds.

I’m not going to pretend like we had this amazing “come from behind to win it all”, season that would make a perfect cheesy Hollywood script.  I’m not even going to pretend it was easy to watch.  In fact, it was downright torturous at times, watching these kids go up against bigger, stronger, older and far more experienced kids match after match after match.

They lost, and lost often.

A couple of times, it was all I could do to not let my son see  tears welling up in my eyes for him.

Our wrestlers were learning how to wrestle just like my cousins learned how to swim.  Coach walked them by the hand to the end of a pier, and threw them off.

And just like my cousins, they didn’t sink.  And just like with my cousins, the one who led them to the edge and threw them off was right there to help them if they struggled.

At the end of the season, these boys held their heads high as they ALL received their first Varsity “letter”.

This year shows much more promise for a winning season.  We’ve got a lot of new freshman coming up, who had some very good coaching last season by new coaches at the Middle School.  And thanks to  a deal made by our Senior state placer, that if he went out for football, the football players would come out to wrestle, I think our numbers will be up as well more to where they should be.

But I don’t think any of this small group of now-Sophomores will forget what they went through last year.

I hope they don’t.

 

 

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Right in Front of Our Eyes

August 20, 2011 at 11:48 pm (High School Sports, Middle School Sports, sports, Uncategorized, Wrestling) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

There’s an emotional growth that happens in kids when they wrestle.  And it happens right in front of us.   It’s one of the more painful things I’ve endured as a Mother.  You might wonder why it’s painful…..and you might not be a wrestling parent.

Anyone who’s ever loved a wrestler knows how this works.  We see, from the outside, our wrestler struggle not only with his opponent but himself.  We see him walk off the mat after taking a brutal beating and can only imagine what is happening inside his heart and mind. He doesn’t want to share it, and it’s really not our business.

We watch as he retreats into a place where only he knows what goes on, and we can only imagine the turmoil that goes on in that dark place.  There is no consoling him, no ‘fixing’ it for him, no amount of Mothering that can be done here.  It’s all on him to work out, on his own.  And it’s hard to watch.

These moments don’t visibly happen in the baseball dugout.  They don’t seem to happen on the sidelines of the basketball court or football field.  They don’t happen in any place other than a smelly gym when the mats are on the floor and the sweat is so thick in the air you can feel the dampness from twenty rows up.

I’m sure baseball and basketball and football players come out of their Little League, Jr. High and High School sports careers with great memories, and talk about how these sports and their coaches, and perhaps their teams, shaped them.  But I think it’s more of a look back than anything, a reflection.  But in wrestling, these emotional growth spurts happen on a daily basis, right in front of us.

There are also the moments when you son wins.  We can more actively participate in these moments, because we are allowed to cheer for him.  He’s usually too far away to be embarrassed.  He’s also sometimes too far away to even know you saw him.

We might be acting like fools with the other parents in the section, jumping and clapping and hooting and hollering.  We know how important this match was to him, and we watch excitedly as he overcomes an opponent he never thought he’d beat.

We watch as he shakes the hand of his opponent with a poker face, and then we watch as his arm is raised, and all we see out of him is a satisfied half-smile.  He doesn’t seek you out to lock eyes with you, silently asking “Did you see me, Mom?”, until he’s off the mat, had his talk with the coach, and got his warm ups back on.

Though you’re glad he’s not out there being a cocky little sonofagun, these winning moments are a little tough to watch as well, because you know how hard he’s worked and would love to see him really celebrate.

When our kids take their first steps, it’s a very bittersweet moment, because we know that they are growing up, and someday they won’t need us anymore.  Watching your kid wrestle is a lot like that.

I have come again to a bittersweet realization, the realization that these are the moments when my son is becoming a man, right in front of my eyes.

My heart nearly bursts with pride during these defining moments. And heartbreakingly, he’s never showed me more how he soon won’t need me anymore.

Despite the heartache, I’m so glad he chose this sport.  He’ll be a better man because of it.  And I’m so glad I get to be part of this wonderful transformation of his, even if it’s from across the gym.

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