Wednesday, December 19, 2001
When the high-school winter sports season began in mid-November, I knew I was in for a challenge.
Expanded sports sections, late-night events, treks to the mountain, and a total unfamiliarity with one of the four sports, would inevitably alter my life until March.
But I wasn’t as concerned about the extra writing, lack of social life or icy roads as I was with my lack of understanding about the sport of wrestling.
I’ve had friends who have wrestled. I’ve watched wrestling on TV — Olympic and, unfortunately, the WWF.
I even had people tell me during my high school days that I should become a wrestler.
But, for some reason, I never took the time to learn the many intricacies of this challenging, time-honored activity.
What a difference a meet makes.
I attended HRV’s manhandling of league-champion Gresham last Thursday not knowing quite what to expect. But when I walked out of the gym, I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm — along with about 400 other crazed wrestling fanatics, which was by far the largest crowd I’ve ever seen occupy the bleachers at HRVHS.
I have discovered this town’s main attraction.
People have told me about the school’s rich wrestling tradition — a program which Coach Mark Brown wrestled for and won fourth in state in 1980. I know of the burgeoning “minor league” system at Airtime Wrestling. But this big?
The parking lot was full, programs were scarce, and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house — unless you count the upper bleachers, which have been retracted for years and have more dust on them than my college textbooks.
Brown tells me his goal is to fill the entire upper section — “Sell the whole place out,” he said.
People have told me how engaging a wrestling match can be, but never did I imagine the accelerated pace or tactical nature of the sport.
The competitors are much like military generals, carefully mapping a strategy and trying to outsmart — and outquick — their opponent.
And just like good military officers, these guys are intense with a capital “tense.”
Some are wound tighter than others, but as I quickly learned, those who want it more, win most. If the opponent shows even the slightest sign of weakness, these gunslingers go for the jugular.
But the wrestlers weren’t half as intense as the crowd, which erupted with every takedown, reversal and near fall. And when HRV earned a fall, the resonating echo of cheers resembled the Kingdome during the Raider Buster days.
It’s no wonder. The anticipation and sheer entertainment value are unparalleled. To add to the spectacle, the gym is kept dark, illuminated only by a soft-glowing mat light.
The competitors, with hoods drawn over their faces like prize fighters, enter the arena to the sound of “Eye of the Tiger” and spar with one another until the introductions, handled by the articulate, energetic wrestling coach and USWOA referee Keith Bassham.
Bassham also takes care of the play-by-play, and by the sound of it, he could be the Dave Neihaus of wrestling broadcasters.
This wasn’t just a sporting event, it was a production. I would happily pay the $4 admission if I didn’t already have matside privileges.
Instead, I think I’ll put my four bucks toward one of those slick new “Eagle Wrestling”