Monday, March 16, 2015

Musings from a once young man...

I went to see "McFarland, USA" tonight.  Needed to get out and see a movie, and I admit I'm a sucker for sports movies.  They all seem to have a lot in common, mostly the triumph at the end, the overcoming of adversity, and/or how they come together as a team and believe in each other.  Hollywood makes it look good.  I DID like "McFarland, USA" a lot!  I was really in the mood for a "feel good" movie.

It did, however, cause me to remember some things from my childhood.  My father, you see, was/still is a coach.  If I have one criticism for him, it would be that he never stayed long enough in one place to reap the fruits of what he built.  We lived in Wamego, KS in the early '60's and the Red Raiders did fairly well.  Then he got an offer to coach at A.C.C.H.S. in Effingham, KS.

I didn't want to move to Effingham.  The Red Raiders played them, and the town was considerably smaller than Wamego.  If you've never been to Wamego, it hasn't changed much in the decades since we left.  Effingham had no public swimming pool and little to do as it was/is a farming community.  Oh, and the water was horrible!  Hard water and full of iron.  It actually had an odor, and tasted awful!  But the negotiation process was that dad would get to start a wrestling team, something unheard of in eastern Kansas at that time.  Western Kansas was where the powerhouse teams were.  There were some good programs in the eastern part of the state.  Paola comes to mind.  But the "west" ruled the roost.

Within a couple of years, the wrestling team at A.C.C.H.S. was doing quite well, and had a budding rivalry of sorts with Paola.  They even had an Invitational tournament at Effingham, and that's where this memory goes...

Winning a wrestling tournament has a variety of factors, mostly how "points" are scored to determine which team would win the event.  Winning a match counted a certain number of points, but if there was victory by "pinning" your opponent, it counted as more points toward the total team count.

My dad had a good idea of how his wrestlers would do and had estimated that they had a good chance of winning the trophy, but it hinged on the outcome of one of his lighter weight category wrestlers.  It would come down to a farm kid named, "Donnie."  Donnie was facing a superior opponent in the championship match.  In all honesty, he was completely outclassed.  His opponent had more experience, more skills, and I believed had even placed in the state tournament the previous year.  I think Donnie may have only wrestled for maybe a year.  It meant that if Donnie got pinned, the A.C.C.H.S. Tigers wouldn't place first overall for the trophy.  Donnie knew all this.

The match began and within a few seconds, his opponent had taken him down to the mat and had flopped him over on his back.  My dad looked away, but never heard a whistle from the referee that the match was over,  Somehow, Donnie was able to bridge up on his head, keeping his shoulders off the mat.  And if one shoulder did go down, he made every effort to keep the other one from touching.

If you've never wrestled in high school, a 3 period, 2 minutes a period(6 minutes total) match might not seem like much.  Having wrestled in high school, I can assure you it's tougher than it looks.  A lot tougher.  And somehow, Donnie wasn't going to be pinned.

By the 3rd round, his opponent was very frustrated at his lack of ability to pin Donnie, so much so that he began bouncing on Donnie's chest to try and get him off his neck bridge to flatten out.  It was evident that it was hurting Donnie, but he wouldn't give up.  And at the end of 6 agonizing minutes the match was over, and his opponent had defeated him soundly on points, his hand raised in victory.

But he couldn't pin Donnie.

The folks there all knew he had done something special.  They didn't care he had lost, and badly by points!  He never gave up and found a strength to keep his shoulder off the mat.  My dad was so proud of him when he came off the mat, and in the end, the Tigers won the tournament.

In usual fashion, we didn't stay in Effingham but 4 years, and then my dad accepted a position to go to Maryville, MO to coach with his old college coach.  His assistant, a man named Larry Tilton, would take over the reins of the football and wrestling teams producing many successful seasons.  And the tournament is still an event, over 4 decades later, named for both men.

Anyway, that's my trip down memory lane.  Time to put some Geritol in my coffee...