If I were to blindfold you, take you into a room, and ask you to identify the room without seeing it: one sniff and you’d yell out: Wrestling Gym! Then you’d cover your nose.
This is Jack’s second year of wrestling. Here are some observations about kid wrestling:
1) The smell
This cannot be mentioned enough. Wrestling rooms are covered wall-to-wall in a 3-inch mat that is essentially a sweat sponge. They mop it with some toxic liquid, but it does nothing. And for some reason wrestling rooms always have low ceilings, so they get hot hot quick – to generate more sweat and trap the smell is a smaller, more concentrated area. Each rooms is a shrine to male sweat.
2) Cauliflower Ear
No disease has ever had a more fearsome name. This is a condition wrestlers get from having their ears mushed into the mats. The ear permanently puffs up to look like cauliflower. It’s very rare, but still my wife lives in fear of Jack getting this disease – and for good reason. Google it – I dare you.
3) The singlet
In no sport is the outfit so ridiculous. Football players look like armored gladiators. Baseball players look sleek and athletic. Wrestlers look like this:
Skin-tight lederhosen with a Lobot headset. Every wrestler looks like they just got a massive front wedgie.
Other sports have only sporadic moments of intensity. A soccer goalie sits around 95% of the time – the big moment of a shot on goal comes only a few times a game. Baseball you stand around most of the time until the big moment when the ball bounces your way or when it’s your turn to bat.
With wrestling, the entire sport is that intense moment. The instant it begins you are locked face to face in conflict until one boy literally overwhelms the other. I would guess that 1 out of 3 matches ends with a kid in tears.
5) Matches = death
Soccer: 2 hours and you’re out of there. Baseball: 3 hours. Basketball is 90 minutes.
With wrestling, you go to a gym and camp out there for 6-8 hours. There is a table with three sweaty statistician dads madly shuffle through dot-matrix printouts and determine the schedule of the 150 kids present. You wait hours for your kid’s three 5-minutes matches to come up. We pack food, books, homework, iPad…it’s like waiting overnight for concert tickets.
But Jack loves wrestling. He’s such a gentle-hearted kid, and watching him face off head-to-head with some strange kid seems so against his nature. His first match last year he faced a kid who had obviously wrestled before. Jack spent 6 minutes getting mashed into the mat again and again. He lost the match 17-1, and while the other kid totally dominated, try as he might he could not pin Jack. Jack wriggled and twisted and could not be pinned. After the match was over Jack’s face was covered in red scuff marks.
“I got killed!” he said to me with a big smile as he panted for breath back in the bleachers.
He got killed every match for the next 6 weeks. But he really liked it. It seemed strange that he would; Jack avoids intense conflict. In soccer or basketball he can’t pass the ball fast enough rather than try and get through a defender. It was only at the end of the season he won a couple matches.
The last match of the season was a tournament. I had to take Alex to a party. Shani took Jack and her phone died, so I didn’t hear a thing beyond the fact that Jack had lost his first match. But at 5:30 they got home and Jack sheepishly produced a medal.
“I won second place.”
He had pinned the next 3 kids he faced and came in second in his weight class.
“Milkshake!” Alex yelled in glee.
And so begins Jack’s second season of wrestling.