It's Sunday afternoon. It seems like I should be doing something, but what? Let's see Oh yea, I need to write an article for mat chat! But what should I write about? Well, I was down in Huntington over the weekend for the state championships. I suppose I could say a word or two about that.
How about this: "Two Tyler Consolidated Wrestlers take on the State of West Virginia!" Oh I know, that's a bit overboard, but that's the way it sometimes felt down there. Here were teams with 6, 8, 11 and even 14 State qualifiers and there we were with the timid two. But by the end of the tournament they had become the tremendous two. Allow me to tell you more.
It was almost as if the organizers of the tournament and all the powers of Heaven and earth got together and said, "Let's construct a tournament that is designed specifically for Coach Richie and the two Tyler wrestlers."
"Let's give them good draws in the seeding. Let's send them good officiating. Let's promote the support of all the fans in attendance. Most importantly, let's draw out of these two guys every ounce of strength and skill that they possess and put it on the mats when they wrestle."
It could not have been orchestrated any better. And so, was our success mostly luck? They say that luck is the result of skill meeting opportunity. I would agree with that wholeheartedly.
Nate and Cullen have been working hard all year, and as the post-season competition approached they have been stepping up their efforts. The result was stupendous!
At this tournament I saw a senior leave the sport with the honor and dignity of the highest wrestling award the state of West Virginia can bestow, and I have seen a junior come of age in wrestling and change his style from passive to active and aggressive, serving notice that he will be back with a vengeance next year.
Just to give this all some perspective I must note that it has been 10 years since Jason Snider became my only state champion, and nine years since I have had more than one state place-winner. (Ten years ago I had to go to the Huntington Goodwill store to buy a suit for the finals, and I had to go again this year. Best $7.50 I've ever spent!)
You could hardly have two more different wrestlers on the same team than Nate and Cullen. Of Cullen it has been said, and I would agree, that he does not possess a wealth of natural athletic ability. Does that not make his accomplishments all the more impressive? What he has is a keen mind that he used to strike the perfect balance between what he should be doing and what his body is capable of doing. He has turned that ability into a great success story. He is not naturally athletic but he has made himself into an athlete!
Nate is almost the complete opposite. Nate does have a multitude of natural skills and cultivated strength that most others do not. His big problem at times is his mental persuasion. He is far better than he gives himself credit for being. This past weekend he jettisoned a lot of his doubts and reservations about himself and let his natural ability take over, with very gratifying results.
Two wrestlers, two stories. That's what makes the sport so interesting. One of the area newspapers was asking me about my wrestlers. They had heard of Cullen because he had made an appearance on the coach's ratings polls, but they knew nothing about Nate.
"Who's Nate Taylor?" I was asked. I replied, "He's nobody. No one knows him, he isn't ranked, and he isn't rated. He's totally off the radar in this tournament."
So what appears in that paper? Coach Richie says, "Nate Taylor is nobody." Well, after beating a host of top-notch competitors and ending up second in the state, I would say that the "nobody" has become a "somebody" to be reckoned with!
Wrestler of the Week? I'm of the opinion that the awards called "State Champion and State Runner-up" make our Wrestler of the Week pale in comparison. Let's just leave it at that.
For Coach McKeever and myself it was certainly an emotionally charged weekend. There is no mistaking the emotional outlet of Eric. He is totally animated during the match, and when we won at Huntington there was no holding him down. He was flying.
Some have made the observation that I don't get excited during a match. It may appear to be so, but that is far from the truth. I may not be as lively and animated as my associate coach, but I am no less delighted. Nor do I have ice water running through my veins.
I sometimes get very emotional. When my wrestler finishes a hard match, qualifying for the finals, and then says, as he is gasping for air "that one was for you coach," I feel such joy and gratitude in my heart that I think I'll burst! Coach Pernell of Weir said to me at one point "I think I saw a couple tears in your eyes didn't I?" I assured him that it was a bug that got in my eye. Darn bugs. There seemed to be a lot of them at the tournament this year!
Speaking of coach Pernell, he was just one of many voices in support of our wrestlers at Huntington. Wrestling is like that. We fight hard against one another, but when the time comes we close ranks and really support each other.
We had coaches, wrestlers, and fans alike expressing their well wishes and support for our guys. C.D. Cox from St. Marys, one of Cullen's old opponents from earlier in the year, offered to warm up with Cullen before his final match.
Then there was a couple from Clay-Battelle that stated that they had intended to go home when their boys lost, but when they heard that Nate and Cullen were in the finals they decided to stay to see them wrestle.
You can't get a much better testimony than that.
Of course I must mention the support we had from our own folks as well.
Nate's grandparents joined his mother at the tournament. Cullen's parents were there. His grandmother as well as his aunt's family came to cheer him on. Lydia Hickman and her mother made the trip, as did my old assistant coach Aaron Foltz.
Brody Northcraft joined us, as I was sure he would. Even though out with an injury, Brody still feels very much like a part of the team.
Wayne McKeever, along with his wife, was there along with Lance, another of my old place winners. I have not seen Lance for quite a while before last week's regionals. We stayed up talking until 3:00 in the morning on Saturday night. It was nice to catch up to what's going on in his life.
Logan Smith also made the trip to cover the event. He was gracious enough to introduce me to his girlfriend, albeit by conference phone.
And guess what I saw as I pulled into the school this afternoon to work on this article. Some of the parents who had not made the trip, the Northcrafts and the Grimes were at work preparing signs in the school driveway for the two state wrestlers to see when they came to school the next day. Our fans are simply great!
Usually I have a story or two to relate about Coach McKeever, but I don't have any this time. I did get a kick out of him telling Nate to "wrestle as though you were drowning."
I will repeat myself for the 100th time: Coach McKeever is the real spark plug of this wrestling team. His energy and enthusiasm are a driving force in our performance, and his coaching ability is growing every year. I would not have wanted to face this year without him, and I trust he will be a factor in teams to come.
Chuck Baker has also proven to be a valuable resource this past year. His coaching ability and his ability to motivate kids could be another ingredient in upcoming years.
And then there's the old man, Coach Richie. The comment I heard most often at this tournament was "what a great way to go out!" How true that is.
Very few wrestling coaches can say that the last two matches they coached produced a state runner-up and a state Champion. What a privilege it has been.
I have been involved in wrestling in one way or the other since 1953. I have wrestled in junior high, high school and college.
I have coached all levels of the sport. I have invested much of my life in wrestling, and it has been a great investment.
I have received far more from the sport than I have put into it. Much of who I am and what I am today is the direct product of my participation in the sport of wrestling. And more rewarding than even that has been the joy I have garnered from teaching the sport to others, including my own sons.
I have seen young men go out into the world better equipped to face the struggles they will find there because they have been involved in wrestling.
For sure, some became more skilled in the sport than others, but any of them who endured the hard work and rigors of a wrestling season came out winners.
I have rejoiced to see my wrestlers come out of the wrestling room and take their place as productive members of our society as husbands, fathers, and as role models for those who will come after them. It gladdens my heart!
I love wrestling. In the midst of the struggle I see the beauty. Amid the pain I see the poetry. Along with the violence I see the elegance. And in the aggression I see the art.
I can only wish that everyone had a passion in their lives that approximates the passion, which I feel for the sport of wrestling.
About 15 of 16 years ago, someone at the Star News suggested to me that I write a couple lines now and then about our wrestling program.
It was thought that perhaps it would generate a little interest in what we do and at the same time give our boys some recognition. Thus was born what was to become the regular feature "Mat Chat."
The management of the Star News has been very indulgent with me, as I often get too long-winded and wordy for my own good. For that I am grateful.
Now that I put the cover back on this keyboard one last time, I hope that at least to some extent our purpose has been accomplished.
Let it be known that wrestling is not simply a brutish struggle between two Neanderthal-type mindless individuals, engaging in a contest involving all muscle and no brain.
Those of us who have wrestled represent a cross sampling of the population in intellect and ability alike.
We think, we live, we learn, we love and we have sensitivities like anyone else. We have learned to wrestle not only with flesh and blood, but also with the ways of the world, troubles, heartaches, and problems.
And when the match is over, the photographs faded, the trophies tarnished and the only thing we have left is life's memories, may we always be able to say that we have given a good account of ourselves, and that we have taken joy in what we have done.
May we always be able to say, as I will now repeat for one last time, that we have been able to "wrestle for fun."