HITTING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 18)

Blog 18

Week 5 Regular Season Freshman Year

            This is a different kind of week. It’s Christmas vacation, and we’re all surrounded by delicious weight-gaining food. And the wrestlers, including Dakota, are not exempt from this holiday phenomena. Dakota is really struggling with his weight this week, as I’m sure the rest of his teammates are as well. Thankfully, all the wrestlers have just been given a two-pound growth allowance for the rest of the season.

This two-pound allowance means Dakota has to weigh 128- pounds or less from now on, instead of 126- pounds. However, he’s been weighing in the 130s all week long. And we can see on his face that he is worried and stressed about it.

However, the positive spin to eating all that extra holiday food is that we get to visit with family during the school break. And while we were visiting with family, my wife’s Aunt Judy approached me with how happy and impressed she is with Dakota. In the past, he had always run away from her like a little boy does when she tried to talk to him. This holiday though, Dakota stood his ground, and actually had a conversation with her as a young man should do. It looks like he’s growing up. And I’m pretty sure wrestling has something to do with it.

Speaking of wrestling having something to do with it, the practices have been very tough this week, and Dakota is really banged up. Subsequently, he’s beginning to get to know the school’s athletic trainer now, too. Dakota has a banged up collarbone and forearm to go along with his sore elbow, and both bruised knees. He also has two bruised eyes. And he says he is sore all over.

It’s not all pain and no fun this week, though. The wrestling coaches have implemented some conditioning drills based around The Twelve Days of Christmas. Dakota has done so much spinning to The Twelve Days of Christmas that he now knows this Christmas Carol by heart. Hey, that may not sound like a lot of fun to us ordinary people, but wrestlers are a different breed if you know what I mean.

Three other cool things happened this week also. First, Dakota told me on the way home from practice one night that wrestling really has changed him for the better. Second, I opened up my email the day after Christmas, and I saw a Happy Holidays email from the greatest wrestler and wrestling coach the United States has ever known, Dan Gable. Finally, my wife’s uncle Lenny, from North Carolina, unexpectedly rolled into town on Thursday. He was a pretty good wrestler himself back in the 1970x for Windham High School. And he can’t wait to go hang out at his alma mater to watch Dakota wrestle at the Windham Duals this weekend.

Friday’s practice was the first high school practice that I got to see in its entirety. Like I really enjoyed watching the entire practices at KT KIDZ this fall, it was great to finally get to see a full one at Dakota’s high school. I was the only parent there. But the coaches didn’t seem to mind at all.

However, while I was there, I spent a lot of my time strolling down memory lane with my old Junior Olympian teammate, Coach Scott Rogers. I did peek over at Dakota from time to time. A couple of times I saw the college wrestler, Roby, who was in town for the week, spending some time helping Dakota out with some of his wrestling techniques.

Near the end of practice, the boys did a lot more spinning. Boy, they really like to spin around here. It seems like they’re always spinning. And the coaches are always yelling at them to go faster. Finally, for the very end of the practice, they finished up with some more fun with the game of Sharks and Minnows. Coach Rogers even jumped into the fun but was eventually dragged down by the wrestlers when the 5th of 6th kid jumped on him.

Dakota left practice still a pound over… I’m not too worried about it though.

Saturday, the morning of the Windham Duals, Dakota wakes up early and comes downstairs to visit me while I’m working on one of my columns. He tells me that he’s still a half of a pound over, even with the two-pound growth allowance. I can’t say that I’m shocked that he weighs 128.5 pounds, but he sure looks caught by surprise and extremely stressed over it.

He’s going to have to lose some weight before he wrestles this morning. I don’t think it’s a big deal. But we can tell by the tell-tale signs on Dakota’s face that he is feeling some anxiety over this. He even asks me what happens if he doesn’t make weight.

I tell him, “That is his coach’s concern. It’s not his concern on what happens if he doesn’t make weight. His only concern right now is just to make weight.”

I dropped Dakota off at Windham High School to go make weight while I run out to the mall to go buy him some better knee pads that will stay up while he’s wrestling. I almost didn’t make it back in time to see Dakota’s first match. As soon as I walked through the gymnasium’s door, I could hear Mrs. Rogers, Coach’s Rogers wife, singing the National Anthem. It was really cool to see one of our own leading us through our country’s National Anthem as she belted out one high note after another. It was also cool that I didn’t miss Dakota’s first match. And the first wrestler that saw me told me Dakota made weight. Very cool. I knew he could do it.

It was a long, tough day full of some excellent wrestling for all those wrestlers in that gym that day. Dakota ran into the returning state champ wrestler in his weight class for his first match of the day. He looked like he had two opportunities to take the other boy down, but then the State Champ prevailed and took Dakota down right to his back and pinned him. It was a great learning experience for the 14-year old who has never wrestled before this year.

Dakota won his second match by collecting a forfeit. His third match went back and forth, and Dakota had the boy pinned, but time ran out in the period. Later in the match, Dakota found himself on his back right near the out of bounds line and was pinned. His fourth match he won by collecting another forfeit.

I came down out of the stands and approached Dakota about how he could have won his third match. But I could see in his eyes that he wasn’t ready for it. So I asked him if he’d like to go over this later, and he said, “Yes.”

I accepted his answer and then turned to the team’s captain and explained to him just a little nuance of wrestling strategy that would have helped him win his first match of the day. This older wrestler listened with interest and thanked me for helping him. It really does take a village to raise a kid.

I think the coach could see that Dakota was feeling a little down, and he made arrangement for Dakota to get one more match that day. It would be an exhibition jayvee match against a kid who was closer to his age. Dakota went out there and dominated the boy and then pinned him in the first period. It was a great way to end the night. Great call coach! It really does take a village to raise a boy into a good young man.





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Dan Gable Olympic Gold Medalist and Wrestler of the Century

Dan Blanchard, Teen Leadership, The Storm

Dan Blanchard is a bestselling author, and award-winning speaker,
and educator. www.DanBlanchard.net