HITTING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 19)

Blog 19

Week 6

Regular Season Freshman Year

We’re finishing up Christmas vacation, and beginning the New Year. This has been a rough vacation in some ways. Early Sunday morning while I was busily working on writing my next book, my boy Dakota came downstairs and greeted me wearing an anxious and troubled face again. He told me that he weighed 134-pounds.

That’s six-pounds over his weight class. And ten pounds heavier than his lowest weight was a few weeks ago. Did he have a growth spurt? His pediatrician did say that he was going to be a big man someday. Or, is it just the holiday season that is causing the weight problems right now with the missed workouts and the extra eating?

The next few days didn’t go much better. Monday, Dakota was 132-pounds after practice. That’s still four pounds over for Thursday’s match. Our family usually goes with another family out to a buffet on New Year’s Eve, but we’re not going to go now. We stayed home on New Year’s Eve and had a quiet night. Tuesday, was New Year’s Day and we didn’t have practice, so I took Dakota out running. When we got back he weighed himself, and he was still at 132-pounds or four pounds overweight, even with the two-pound growth allowance they have given us.

In a moment of frustration, Dakota asked me if he could wrestle up in the 132-pound weight class, instead.

I told him that I personally don’t have a problem with that, but him bumping up would depend on a bunch of other factors like his teammate who is already in that weight class and what his coaches thought, too. Also, did he really have a growth spurt? Or is it just the holidays?

During the exchange, my wife Jennifer joined in and told Dakota that this is the sport that he signed up for. This is part of wrestling. And he shouldn’t be trying to take the easy way out…

I’m really hoping that he can make weight this week. And I’m going to have to start working with him again at night before we go to bed to see if I can help him maintain his weight. I guess then I’ll know if he’s going to have to go up a weight class. However, that will probably mean no more varsity for him. And it will most likely also leave the team another wrestler down where they will have to forfeit again.

These days the kids wrestle at seven percent body fat as the lowest the CIAC Wrestling Board will let them go. The part that is a little frustrating for us older and former wrestlers is that Dakota’s coach, Coach Torres wrestled at six percent body fat. And his other coach, my old warrior buddy, Coach Rogers, wrestled with me on that Junior Olympic team at five percent body fat. It would seem that there is wiggle room there for today’s kids and they should be able to make weight. But, times are different today and so are  the kids…. as Coach Rogers’ wife keeps reminding me that she just doesn’t see the focus in kids’ eyes today like she used to see when me and my East Hartford team used to show up in Windham to wrestle against her future husband and his Windham team.

To tell you the truth, I have mixed emotions about Dakota’s weight. Dakota is only a freshman, and wrestling varsity is hard enough without the extra stress of trying to make weight every day. However, because he’s just a freshman, I’m also concerned about him bumping up a weight class and going against kids who are now not only older than him, but also bigger than him, too. Then, of course, we have to take the team’s welfare into account as well. If he bumps up because he can no longer make weight, it will hurt the team. There’s no easy way out of this one… I’m not sure what we’re going to do about his one if Dakota can’t find it in himself to do even more and the extra nightly workouts don’t do the trick…

            This week’s Wednesday match got pushed back to Thursday night because of the holidays. Dakota and I did a 20-minute workout in the basement on Wednesday night to help him make weight for his match the next day.

During the 20-minute workout with Dakota, I was sucking wind and had to face the fact that I’m out of shape. At one point, I told Dakota that he is going to have to help me get back in shape with these regular nightly workouts.

He responded that I’m going to have to help myself get back in shape.

I really wasn’t expecting that answer. But, it was a fair and honest answer. So, in a way, after the initial shock, I’m kind of happy that he said that. It showed some maturity and how one is supposed to take responsibility for themselves

Thursday, after school, Dakota checked his weight and found out he was still two pounds over his new 128-pound weight class thanks to the two-pound growth allowance. It was panic time. Dakota ran nonstop for over an hour trying to make weight.

When I got to his match later that night, Dakota told me that he made weight by one-tenth of a pound.

“Awesome!” I thought.

Then he told me that after weigh-ins, he ate only a muffin and a granola bar because he was worried about making weight for Saturday. My heart sunk because I was more concerned about him wrestling tonight on a low fuel tank than him making weight on Saturday.

Dakota was the first match of the night. He did okay. The match with the older boy went back and forth. One of the times when it looked like Dakota could have pinned his opponent, I yelled, “STEP OVER” so loud that the people in front of me in the stands moved their seats because I blasted their eardrums out.


Unfortunately, Dakota didn’t step over. He probably couldn’t hear me. And his opponent rolled him to his back and pinned him. Rookie mistake… or maybe I should say mistakes… We’ll have to learn from it and do better next time…

The rest of the night was just as eventful as our wrestling team battled back and forth with the other team. At one point during the heated competition, though, Coach Torres had to tell Dakota to wake up. Yeah, as crazy as that sounds, Dakota while sitting on the team bench in the middle of the ruckus, somehow fell asleep. I’m assuming he was sleeping because of his weight loss and lack of food that day.

Later in the night when I was mingling among the wrestlers, showing them some moves, and encouraging some who were getting ready to wrestle, I was approached by a fan wearing the opposing team’s sweatshirt. It was my old buddy, Paul Diaz. Paul was our heavyweight wrestler back in 1988 at East Hartford High School. Paul and I also played together on East Hartford’s State Championship football team.

It was wonderful catching up with Paul who retired a few years ago as a correctional officer. We left that night saying that we’d have to meet up sometime for a cup of coffee, as my wife commented that she can’t take me anywhere without someone knowing me there…

     Saturday morning, Dakota woke up one pound underweight. Yeah! Maybe now we can get back to some normalcy and put the holiday weight problems behind us. Now, let’s hope the wrestling scale that Dakota has to weigh-in later this morning is calibrated exactly like our home scale.

I dropped Dakota off at school at 6:45 A.M. for him to catch the bus for the hour plus ride. My wife and I soon follow the team up in our car after making sure that our other four children were all set for the day.

At 8:45, my wife Jenn and I enter the gymnasium and find out that Dakota made weight with a pound to spare. Very cool! Looks like our home scale was correct, or at least the same as theirs. We’re so relieved. However, what we hear next isn’t so good.

While Dakota was a pound under, our team’s 132-pound captain was a pound over. He didn’t make weight and won’t be allowed to wrestle at the 132-pound weight class today. And that stinks. But, that’s how wrestling goes sometimes. And that’s also how life sometimes goes, too. We don’t always get what we want. And we don’t always get what we think we worked hard for and what we think we deserve.

The day’s wrestling starts off at the 126-pound weight class again and Dakota steps on the mat ready to wrestle when his weight class is called. At the center of the mat, the referee raises his hand immediately. Dakota looks a little confused. It turns out that Dakota won by forfeit. The other team didn’t have a wrestler in his weight class. Dakota would face the same exact scenario again later in the day for his second match and fourth match.

“What the heck is happening to the sport of wrestling?” I wonder. Is the sport just too hard for kids today? Or do they have too many other options to choose from now? Or is it something else? We never had forfeits like this when I wrestled. Heck, we were three deep in most weight classes. And so were most of the teams we wrestled.

Dakota was awarded three wins today without wrestling those three matches. I mean three wins is a great thing to have, but I don’t think anyone really wants to see him win like that if it can somehow be avoided.

Thankfully, there was someone for Dakota to wrestle for his third match. Because Dakota is just a freshman who hadn’t fought a match yet, for this third match of the day, they gave him an exhibition match against a jayvee kid who also needed someone to wrestle. Dakota dominated his opponent and quickly pinned him. At the end of the match, I spoke with Dakota and told him that it’s nice every once in a while to wrestle a kid his own age so he can see that the varsity battles and the varsity beatings that he has been enduring on a daily basis are paying off.

After the day’s wrestling is all over, the referee, who is also an old buddy of mine, Dave LeBlanc, from my old stomping grounds of East Hartford, came up to congratulate Dakota for wrestling so well. Dave had another referee with him who I didn’t recognize immediately.

The other referee was Dave’s son, Tyler, who I used to watch wrestle when I was coaching New Britain, and he was wrestling for East Hartford. I shook hands with Tyler and exchanged greetings. I then told him that the last time I saw him, he still looked like a boy. Now, he certainly doesn’t look like a boy anymore. He’s obviously developed into a good young man who shook my hand, looked me in the eyes, and was very polite.

Tyler is taller than his dad, Dave, just like my son Dakota is already taller than me. As I look at Tyler and Dave, I think how cool it is that they are refereeing wrestling together. I then wonder as I stare at them together as father and son, if in some ways, they represent what Dakota and I will be in another decade from now…

What a great day of wrestling! Our team won all their matches today. And so did, Dakota, too. Also, my wife and I got to know some of the other team parents in the stands sitting with us a little bit better today. I even got to show a few wrestling moves to some of the wrestlers in between matches. And when the wrestlers’ bus finally pulled back into our high school’s parking lot, Jenn and I took Dakota out for a late lunch. And he even got to eat something besides egg whites, oatmeal, and carrot sticks. Don’t worry. He’ll be doing some extra workout during the upcoming week with me. So, as I just said, it was a great day of wrestling!




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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