Mendham High School Wrestling Team – Indisputable Champs

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There is one week until the start of districts when the “real” wrestling begins. That’s the fuel the coaches inject in their battered, food-deprived, and weary wrestlers. The season has been practice; the post-season is the payoff. Top three wrestlers in districts wrestle at regions. Top three wrestlers at regions wrestle at states. In New Jersey, even an invitation to states is so prestigious it can result in a college recruitment.

For many, these dreams start when the wrestler is in grade school. Such is this sport. It requires a childhood to ferment.

Sometimes at the start of matches the ref will talk to each team, and sometimes he will mention moves that are so dangerous they are designated as illegal, and off-limits to the wrestlers. One of these moves is something like this: you may not trap your opponent’s arms and then slam him to the mat. Doing so means that the wrestler with the immobilized arms has no way to break his fall. It’s not only dangerous, it’s hard for the ref to stop because it happens so quickly.

This is a move that we must trust opponents not to pull.

Wednesday night, my son’s opponent hit this move. The picture above shows the result: a snapped clavicle. As if that weren’t enough, the wrestler who did this taunted the crowd, his team and fans booed the trainer’s decision to stop the match and award it to my son, and the opposing coaches challenged the trainer, chastising his decision.

Sanity left the gym that night, replaced by the worst stance we can find in sports: the desire to win at all cost.

After years around this sport, I’ve noticed that wrestlers are accustomed to being misunderstood. Their conditioning, the muscle they work so hard to build, the moves they spend long hours to learn—most of these are not used off the mat. The days they spend watching what they eat, the hours of anxiety—the need to hole up and wall themselves off, and the fear—the never-ending fear— that they will lose and lose big makes them different. They know this. They accept it. They are a brotherhood.

The best wrestlers are also a complex set of contradictions. How can a wrestler be tough yet show concern and compassion for a friend? How he remain focused on his own run at states yet agonize over someone whose chance has ended? How can he give one hundred percent on the mat yet find the emotional pool to sit with an injured teammate?

How can he try every move he’s learned in order to beat an opponent, yet chose not to hit those that are deemed illegal?

Ask the Mendham High School wrestling team. They are the indisputable champs.

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4 thoughts on “Mendham High School Wrestling Team – Indisputable Champs

  1. It is tough to see your son or daughter get injured doing something they love but teammates also endure the pain. You made a good point about how his teammates would sit with him and think about his injury while they are wrestling. As an athlete myself, I have worreid about the health of a fellow teammate and as you say in your entry it may be hard to stay focused when your teammate is suffering. I love your entry is also related to many other people who have played a sport.

  2. Love this: “The best wrestlers are also a complex set of contradictions.” This is true of any profession–any aspect of life. Do you choose to hit below the belt and win at all costs? Or do you give 100%, but choose integrity as well? So many great points to mull over. And wow. Sorry about your son. But I’m glad his team cares more about integrity than victory.

  3. Thank you for this post. Although my sons don’t wrestle and I’ve never attended a match, you’re writing brought the experience home to me with high intensity. My best to your son.

  4. I see this happening more and more with kids’ sports. Sadly, even very young players are encouraged by coaches and parents to “win-at-all-costs,” even if that means roughing up other players or verbally taunting them. These kids are often faced with split second moral decisions during games: do I crush my opponent and win or play with integrity and risk losing? It’s becoming a tougher choice as kids get older and higher stakes (scholarships, college recruitment) are raised. Hats off to Mendham wrestlers for choosing to take the higher road (and so sorry for your son’s injury). Hope he’s back in the ring soon.

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