HITTING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 28)

Week 3 of Regular Sophomore Season

Well, here we are in week three of Dakota’s sophomore wrestling season of high school, and it has been riddled with ups and downs already. One of the cool things about this wrestling season so far is that Tony, the front door security guy, no longer asks me to sign in because I’m now one of the coaches. Tony is also a former State Champ wrestler, too.

Let me tell you that coaching has changed over the years. Back when I was a coach in New Britain twenty years ago, it was common for volunteers and old wrestlers to just casually show up and help out. The more bodies in the room, the better. Kids learned a lot from former wrestlers who stopped down once in a while to roll around with them.

However, in today’s times, one can’t just stop down, roll around and show some moves anymore. You have to be a certified coach to be on the mat with the kids. Now, I’m not saying if that’s good or bad. But, I am saying that it is different and it makes it a lot harder for a coach to get some extra help. The pool of people shrinks considerably when you have to go online to take a long concussion course with certification. Then First Aid and CPR certifications, too. Then add in a very long coaching course. Then they also get fingerprinted and have a lengthy background check. All of these things takes a lot of time and costs lots of money. And I can’t even keep straight anymore how much paperwork I’ve had to fill out for all of this…

Not a lot of people are going to want to go through this much stuff to help out, especially if they are just a volunteer coach who doesn’t get paid. However, with that said, I think my son Dakota knows how much I would give and sacrifice to see him and his team do well. So I do it without complaint because that’s what good men and good fathers do. But, again, I don’t’ think a lot of others will go through all of this just to volunteer.

Speaking of going through a lot, we almost lost our heavyweight this week after a small scare. But, fortunately, we got to keep him so now we don’t have to forfeit that weight class. However, we didn’t get so lucky with our lightweight 106-pounder. He is very small weighing only 76-pounds. I tried to talk to him and help him understand that he was going to have to pay his dues for a few years, but that if he hung in there like a real champ, in a few years he could be our 106-pound State Champ as an upperclassman. We even tried to recruit another small kid to workout with him. We figured the two of them could have some great upperclassmen years as lightweights. But, I guess we weren’t convincing enough because neither kid has shown up to wrestling at all this week.

We also have a real dilemma with where Dakota will wrestle for the second half of the season when he comes back from his injury. On Monday Dakota weighed 142-pounds and said that he wanted to wrestle in the 138-pound weight class. The problem is that our senior captain is weighing the same and saying the same, too. No one wants Dakota and our senior captain to be in the same weight class…

I tell Dakota that maybe he should consider the 145-pound weight class. I’ll get him into the gym to lift some weights and help him gain a little more strength, and he’ll probably be okay. Dakota’s other coaches disagree and want him to go down to the 132-pound weight class to wrestle. We have a hole in the lineup at 132. And that’s where they believe Dakota will have his best chances of helping the team. I’m not sure if Dakota’s skinfold fat test will even allow him to go down that low in bodyweight. He’s pretty lean. I guess we’ll just have to wait to see what happens…

Wednesday finally arrives and so does our first wrestling meet of the season. Everybody is fully pumped except for me and Dakota. Dakota is excited for his teammates and loves the feel of team competition. Still, he’s bumming it that he can’t participate in it and has to just watch from a distance because of his injury. I wake up in the early morning sick and stay home from work and wrestling that night. Dang…

Dakota and Coach Jon Torres

Neither Dakota nor I wanted to miss the first wrestling meet of the season, especially against New Britain. I work in the New Britain school district as a teacher, and I used to coach their wrestling team many years ago when volunteers and wrestlers could just walk right into the wrestling room for a workout, and they did all the time… It would have been really cool for Dakota to be healthy and wrestling against his dad’s old team. It would have been awesome for me to be healthy and been coaching my son and his teammates against my old team on the opening night. But I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe next year…

However, something good did come out of Wednesday night. Dakota’s weight certification was done. And they said that he can indeed wrestle the 132-pound weight class in January when it becomes the 134-pound weight class due to a growth allowance. Dakota is going to have to be extremely disciplined to pull this off though. But at least, we now know where he’s going to wrestle when he gets released by his doctor.

Also, one of my former student-athletes, Zachary Searle, from the old days when I coached New Britain, introduced himself to Dakota. He said he was compelled to reach out to Dakota because his dad is one of the best men that he knows. Zachary is now a mixed martial arts fighter. He’s tough as nails, a great fighter, and a good man.

When Dakota told me about his encounter, I complimented Zachary. I also asked Dakota if he saw the New Britain assistant wrestling coach, Shane Day. After he confirmed that he had, I told him that Shane’s dad, the late, great, Jim Day was one of the best men that I have ever known… he taught me so much… I’ll never forget Coach Day…

Ove all these years since Coach Day coached me, I have been paying his good deeds forward to many other young men like Zachary Searle. And in return, guys like Zachary are paying it forward to many other young promising men like my own son, Dakota.

Now back to Dakota’s weight. Last year, I shared with all of you in one of my early blogs how Dakota was the freshman 126-pound varsity starter and 35-years earlier his dad, me, had held that exact position. Pretty cool, huh? Well guess what? This year, it looks like Dakota is the 132-pound sophomore varsity starter, and that’s also the same exact spot I held 35-years ago, too.

Also, the captain of my team all those years ago was Paul Gilbert, the 138-pound senior. I learned a lot from wrestling with Paul every day in practice. And I’m sure Dakota will learn a lot from wrestling his 138-pound senior captain every day in practice too when he finally does get back on the mat.

Well, it looks like, once again, Dakota is following in my footsteps. So, I had to let him know that I placed 5th in the State that sophomore year of mine, and I’m anticipating that he may do the same or even better. The corners of Dakota’s mouth raised upward in a smile as said that he’ll do even better. I smiled, too, and said that I hope so and that I’d really love to see him one-up me…

Friday was Dakota’s physical therapy session before wrestling practice. On my drive to practice I got a phone call from my wife to give me the PT report. She said that Jonathan, the physical therapist, says that something weird is going on with Dakota’s knee that shouldn’t be happening. Uhh… More bad news that I have to break to head coach Torres. Maybe Dakota won’t be coming back in early to mid-January…

Saturday morning was pretty cool. After all these years, I found myself on a team wrestling bus headed out to a day of combat. I had spent many years as an athlete on busses like this. And then a whole bunch of years as a coach on busses like this. And now I’m back, this time as one of my own son’s coaches on a bus again, leading a group of young warriors into battle. I love it!

However, head coach Jon Torres is frustrated. We’re missing a bunch of kids and will have to give up a bunch of forfeits today. Jon laments that the normal kid today is soft and not committed. We only have 11 kids on the bus… I get goosebumps running up and down my spine as I’m looking at those 11 kids. I answer coach Torres that not everyone has the raw courage of these 11 kids who dare to dream of greatness by stepping on to a wrestling mat.

Coach Torres reminisces about his former coach, the great Coach Crudden. He recalls a time when they were heavily outnumbered. Crudden gave them the speech about  King Leonidas who led 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian “God-King” Xerxes and his invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers. The Spartans bravely held the narrow passage with everything they had in the Battle of Thermopylae. Coach Crudden said to Jon Torres’ team, “We’ll go with what we have.” Coach Torres, scanning the sparsely populated bus, said, “We’ll go with what we have,” like a true warrior-leader. Assistant wrestling coach, Scot Rogers, who also had Crudden as a coach, shook his head up and down.

At the tournament, I see some of my old friends from the wrestling community. I spend a bunch of time talking to Derek Dion, the Southington Coach. Derek always has a great team over there. As we’re talking, he says he doesn’t even care about all the wins, he cares about creating good young respectable men. He shares with me that every season he gives the team the Douchebag Speech.  In it, he instructs his wrestlers how to conduct themselves in a mature good sportsman way at all times, and especially after a painful loss.

I look at Derek and think… no wonder why we’re friends. He’s my type of guy. A good man who is building up other good men through doing something hard, like wrestling.

The tournament went well. The team wrestled very well in some places and made costly mistakes in others. We put two guys in the finals, had a few that just missed the semi-finals, and a bunch of new kids that wrestled hard and showed some promise. Sadly, Dakota just sat on the sideline, wishing he was in there with his team… After some of our tough losses, I pulled the kid aside and showed them how to stop that from happening next time. I think we learned a lot today and matured some, too.

During one of the final matches, I saw a Southington kid wrestling well, and he certainly looked like he had a victor all wrapped up. But then, all of a sudden, late in the match, his opponent caught him in a cradle and pinned him. It shocked everyone, including the kid himself, who slapped the mat in frustration after losing. Then I heard a woman sitting near me, mutter in disgust, “Doesn’t he remember the Douchebag Speech?” Wow! She must have been a Southington mother. And I guess Derek’s speech really was impactful on their families over there… Maybe Derek should give that speech everywhere…

Well, it’s dark out again, just like it was when we came here this morning. We’re getting back on the bus, looking forward to our beds, and another great week of wrestling ahead of us…



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Dan Gable Olympic Gold Medalist and Wrestler of the Century


Dan Blanchard, Teen Leadership, The Storm

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