HITTING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 20)

Blog 20

Week 7

Regular Season Freshman Year

Dang! Another crazy weekend that was overflowing with a ton of stress from things that were outside of just the regular family issues and sports. Unfortunately, Dakota and I didn’t do any night workouts at all.

However, even though we had an overwhelming, and stressful weekend, it still kind of ended on a positive note. My wife, Jennifer, and I decided that we needed to have a family movie night consisting of a Star Wars movie. Yeah… that would be a nice way to end the weekend as a family of seven cuddled up together on our oversized couch with popcorn and snacks.

Dakota was trying to show some restraint because he didn’t get in any extra workouts this weekend, and he’s been having a lot of trouble making weight. But, about ten minutes into the movie he asked if he could have some snacks anyway.

I told him, “Sure! Just show some self-discipline because whatever you eat, you’re going to have to run off.”

He ate some snacks, and he did show some restraint at first. But… not a whole lot of control in the end. A couple of times my wife and I looked at him and said, “Well, I guess you’re going to be doing some extra running this week!”

He did his best to ignore us.

About halfway through the Star Wars movie that we had just bought from the store, the film lost its picture. We could hear the characters speaking, and the weapons firing, but the picture was gone entirely.

Go figure… I guess it was just one of those weekends…

However, I think the movie going out on us was a blessing in disguise because with the film unexpectedly ending early, so did all of the snacking. And it’s a good thing the eating ended prematurely because Dakota woke up on Monday morning at 132- pounds. Now he needs to lose four pounds to be able to wrestle in Wednesday night’s match…

This week continues with some challenges and stress. Dakota has troubling finishing up all of his homework for school. He doesn’t seem to have transferred the success principle of working hard in wrestling to working hard everywhere else, too, yet. However, Dakota does have the beginnings of knowing how to work hard now thanks to wrestling. And if he continues to work hard in wrestling, then I’m convinced that eventually working hard will become so ingrained in him that it will just automatically transfer over to other areas of his life as well. These things take time though…

In addition, we don’t always succeed by just working harder or working longer. Sometimes we have to use skill and strategies, like time management tricks. I’ve spoken to Dakota about doing some of the things I do in keeping up with my enormous workload. Just do a little bit of work every time you get a chance. Maybe you get up earlier. Perhaps it’s while you’re waiting for the bus. Maybe it’s on the bus. Perhaps it’s during lunch time. Maybe it’s right after school before sports start.

Dakota shook his head and said, “I can’t do homework on the bus. How would I even balance my notebooks and textbooks?”

To tell you the truth, I don’t care if he does homework on the bus or not. I just want him to steal whatever little moments he can throughout the day to get his homework done, or whatever else he has to do. Time management…

Wednesday night, I stay late at work and head over to Dakota’s match from New Britain. This worked out well since the wrestling meet was just the next town over. My wife couldn’t make it because she had to bring our daughters to soccer.

When I finally get to wrestling, I can’t believe my eyes. Standing at the scoring table is the Connecticut legend, Ray Mainville. Ray has been around the sport of wrestling in Connecticut for 52- years. He was one of the two referees who refereed my State Championship match over 30-years ago. The other referee that called my State Championship match was Dr. Abraham Chamie. Unfortunately, Abe wasn’t there on this particular night. But, I have been lucky enough to reconnect with Abe, too, over the years. We go out for coffee about every six months or so.

It was great to see Ray Mainville again. My boy Dakota has so enriched my life by bringing me back into the wrestling fold where I continually find myself once again among my old wrestling family from the good old days.

After catching up with Ray, and finding out that Dakota made weight by one-tenth of a pound, I head toward the team and see Coach Torres’ million dollar smile. He informs me that we’re wrestling the #3 team in the State. They also have ten wrestlers ranked in the Top 5 in their weight classes!

“Dang!” I think to myself. This is going to be one heck of a night for the boys.

Carrying on with that million dollar smile of his, Coach Torres then tells me that every single one of our wrestlers has a winning record right now. “Even the freshman, Dakota, has a winning wrestling record so far,” as he smiles even bigger. This is the first time this has happened since he has been the coach there.

However, tonight, even after a valiant effort, many of my son’s teammates won’t be raising their hands in victory.

When Dakota finally gets his chance to wrestle, he earns the first takedown of the match against an outstanding wrestler. Our fans liven up. Some yell, “Pin him, Dakota.” However, this kid Dakota is wrestling is too good to be held down for long. He eventually reverses Dakota to tie up the score.

In the second period, the other kid picks the top and immediately throws in the legs on my freshman boy who doesn’t really know how to defend himself from leg wrestling yet. Dakota hangs in their tough, but the other kid cranks on his shoulder with a power half-nelson and turns Dakota a few times for back exposure points.

The third period Dakota picks neutral. And even though he’s a bit worn out now from battling those legs and power half-nelsons, he almost gets the takedown again. But the other wrestler hit a nice maneuver and managed to get to the side, and then eventually behind Dakota to secure a takedown.

Again, the other wrestler throws in legs and punishes Dakota with that power half-nelson some more. I find myself rubbing my own sore shoulder that I had surgery on as I watch him turn Dakota a few more times for more back exposure points. On the positive side though, he couldn’t pin Dakota.

Dakota lasted the entire six minutes with an excellent wrestler from an outstanding team. And Dakota only lost 14-2. As far as I’m concerned, that a victory for my 14-year old boy who is new to wrestling. Dakota doesn’t see it that way, though. After the match, he is so upset with losing that he can’t even talk to me when I approach him. He just turns and walks away.

It would have been easy to be offended at that moment as a parent. But, because I spent so many years as a coach, I know that the anger is the inner-workings of a champion in the making. I must admit though that it was a lot easier to see that kind of behavior and handle it from other parents’ sons during all my years of coaching than was for me at that moment as a parent just trying to help my own boy.

Thursday morning Dakota woke up at 130-pounds, which is two pounds over his weight class again. It looks like the cycle continues. I’m trying to get him to hang out at a body weight of 128-129 pounds so making weight won’t be so hard. But, we haven’t gotten there yet… Oh, well… I suppose it’s better than the 132-pounds he was on Monday morning. However, anything can happen before Saturday’s weigh-ins if Dakota isn’t vigilant… And if he isn’t, he’ll be doing a lot of running before weigh-ins.

I get to see the very end of Friday night’s practice as I chat with the coaches a bit. After practice, I see something that I’ve never seen before and then something that I’ve seen a lot of over the years. First, these guys come out of nowhere with this very mysterious mist spray that they apply to the mats. They look like they should be wearing Space Martian suits, but they’re not. I ask the coach what that is, and he tells me that they are fogging the mat. I’ve never heard of that terminology before. But I guess they were disinfecting the mats with their new really special mist spray… Times have changed… As the kids are checking their weight after practice, I finally hear something familiar from the old days. The coach is talking about how one of our wrestlers has ringworm, but he should be fine to wrestle the next day because he has a doctor’s note.

Unfortunately, I did not get to see Dakota wrestle in Saturday’s tournament. One of many side jobs pulled me away for the entire day. My wife, Jennifer, kept me informed though. Mid-morning she texted me that Dakota won his first match 9-1. I showed everyone at work the text. I was pumped. Later she texted me that his next kid is very good. I texted her back, “Damn” and told everyone at work about it. They all said, “Damn.” Too.

In the early afternoon, my Jenn texted me that Dakota got pinned. I once again shared that with everyone at work. They all said they were sorry, and that maybe he’ll get the next one. He’ll have to win the next one if he’s going to make it to the semi-finals to wrestle for 3rd and 4th place. If he makes it to the semi-finals, then I’ll have a chance of seeing him.

Late afternoon, I and everyone I work with at the American Federation of Teachers in Rocky Hill, Connecticut are holding their breath for the next text message from Jenn. The text finally comes… Dakota was losing 7-0, and then came storming back to take the lead in points. He then tried to hit a move and missed it causing him to land on his back and get pinned while he was ahead in points.

We’re all very sad that I won’t get to see him wrestle today because he is now out of the double-elimination tournament. However, even though I’m sad my freshman boy lost in the varsity tournament, I’m glad he went down swinging for the fences. You have to give it your all in life. You can’t always play it safe. Also, my wife, Jennifer, said that this was probably the best she has seen Dakota wrestle so far.

When I do get out of work and drive the hour to get to the wrestling tournament, I get to watch the semi-finals and finals and support some of Dakota’s teammates. Several of the parents tell me that they can’t believe how well my freshman boy wrestled in this varsity tournament today. I’m beaming as a proud father should be.

Also, Coach Crudden, another Connecticut wrestling legend, came out of the stands to talk to Dakota and I. He shared that he was watching Dakota and he was very impressed with how well Dakota wrestled. That means a lot coming from Crudden.

To cap the day off, my old heavyweight teammate Paul Diaz from the old days was there again, and we got to talk again some. As we were talking, Coach Flynn, the Enfield coach came up to me and said that he has been really enjoying my blog. I remember watching Flynn wrestle for Fermi when I was coaching New Britain. He was one heck of a wrestler. And it felt wonderful to hear him say that he’s been following my blog, and is really enjoying it from the parenting side of the equation of raising a boy into a good young man through the sport of wrestling.

Finally, at the very end of the night, I walked by the referee from East Hartford, Tyler LeBlanc. We shook hands, and I said that it was nice day of wrestling. He agreed and responded with, “I like 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