HITTING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 33)

Blog 33

Week 8 of Regular Sophomore Season

This week started a bit different. Monday is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, so we don’t have any school today. But, what we do have is a 6:45 A.M. bus to a jayvee wrestling tournament back in Griswold. It’s the same place we were yesterday for the varsity tournament. It’s the second day in a row that we are on a bus in the dark of the morning and then again in the dark of the night. And in between all the traveling we’re yelling ourselves hoarse in a very crowded gymnasium. It’s another long, exhausting day of wrestling, just like yesterday.

We only brought with us eight wrestlers today. And while they all wrestled tough, it was our 113-pounder that really stood out. He fought four very tough opponents, and he somehow managed to squeak out wins in all of them. Thus, landing himself on the top step of the awards podium at the end of the night. We are all so proud of this first-year wrestler taking first place in this tournament. He’s innately tough, and he has a bright future as a wrestler.

A couple of other cool things also happened today at the tournament. A mother approached me and told me that she and her son had read my book, The Storm: How Young Men Become Good Men. That was very cool! I also received a phone call from Ernie Hutt of Augie and Ray’s restaurant in East Hartford to discuss an East Hartford football book that I’m in the process of writing. And to top it off, my old buddy Tim Victor called me, too. Tim lives in Philadelphia now, but back in 1987, he was my teammate and the captain of what many call the best East Hartford wrestling team ever. Tim and I are collaborating on an East Hartford wrestling alumni project that will also most likely involve some kind of wrestling book as well.

Above are some of the good things that happened today. The bad thing is that my son Dakota complained yesterday that his knee felt weird, and now today it’s feeling even worse. I could see on his face that he’s worried. His frustration pains me even more than the thought that maybe he won’t make it back for the State Tournament this year… Perhaps this season is a wash for Dakota… I hope not… Sitting on the sideline this season with a knee that won’t heal fast enough has been tough on Dakota.

Surprisingly, my old Junior Olympic teammate from the mid-80s, Rey Santiago, show up later in the day to help referee the tournament. After the Junior Olympics, Rey then ended up on the Pan Am Team with another old buddy and teammate of mine out of Hartford, Olando Rosa, and a guy from Massachusetts named Jose Santiago. The three did well and earned a bunch of medals there. Then they were asked to be on the Puerto Rico Olympic wrestling team to compete in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. I went to watch, of course, because I didn’t yet have all the responsibilities of raising a family while trying to hold down a job. And all my money was still my own back then, too.

I introduced our Coach Scot Rogers to Rey Santiago because I figured they’d have a lot to talk about since Orlando Rosa was Coach Rogers’ arch-rival back in his old high school days. The three of us had a great stroll down memory lane talking about the old days of wrestling. As I, Coach Rogers, and Rey Santiago were talking, laughing, and joking over the old days, we had sort of noticed that wrestling had stopped. So we just kept talking, not noticing, however, that it had stopped because of us three old warriors trading stories while standing on the wrestling mat in use. When it was finally brought to our attention, Rogers and I got off the mat, and Rey made a joke about how it was it was all my fault. And then he ran out to the center of the mat to finally referee the match that had been patiently waiting for him to start.

I settled back into the bleachers to watch some more wrestling when a mother asked me what a “Bye” was. I tried to explain to her that it was a free pass to the next round for a wrestler. She asked me if it was a forfeit.

“Not exactly,” I told her. “It’s a bit different.”

She asked me if it was a form of “by.” I wasn’t sure, so I looked it up.

The first thing we found out was that the term is not related to “Good bye” but is indeed an alteration of “by” as in the team or athlete is “standing by” to play later, or “by passed” while other teams or athletes play now. One of the earliest sports to feature a bye is coursing where animals, usually dogs, pursue some kind of game animal, like a rabbit. We also found out that the b-y-e spelling is likely influenced by an existing term from cricket in which a wicket-keeper misses a ball.

When I arrived to practice on Tuesday, I see Dakota, and he tells me that his physical therapy session didn’t go so well. There is definitely something weird going on with his knee again and his physical therapists only wants Dakota doing core work today. He’s to stay off of his feet and do a bunch of sit-ups, crunches, flutter kicks, and things like that. Coach Torres doesn’t look happy upon being informed of this new development.

Dakota looks at me and says, “How am I supposed to make weight tomorrow for a match I’m not even going to wrestle?

I reply, “You may not be making weight tomorrow,” which was reinforced when Dakota stepped on the scale at the end of practice at 138-pounds. He’s four pounds over after his core workout. Dakota weighing-in tomorrow doesn’t look good. Another obstacle has been thrown in his path to wrestling at all this season…

Wednesday night was quite a night. Dakota didn’t make weight. Our 120-pounder didn’t make weight either. He missed it by one-tenth of a pound. Thus, Coach bumped him up two weight classes to the next open weight class of 134-pounds. This is the weight class Dakota would have wrestled in if he was healthy and on weight. Sadly, their 134-pounder was awesome, and he just overwhelmed our 120-pound first-year wrestler.

As one can probably guess, the night brought with it some good stuff and some bad stuff once again. It was good because I got to go to the wrestling meet with my wife, Jennifer, and she got to watch the team wrestle tonight. It was also good because I got to see my old buddy and former teammate, Paul Diaz, too. Paul is the assistant coach of Enfield’s wrestling program. He introduced me to his son, who, like my son, has had to weather an injury as well. It was great seeing and talking to the old heavyweight of my 1988 East Hartford High School team. It was also great to see Enfield fan and father Scott Beiler. We’ve met and talked a few times this season, and are now friends because of this blog. Pretty cool, huh?

Also, tonight’s referee is a guy that used to referee some of mine and Coach Rogers, and even Coach Torres’ matches when we were high school wrestlers. Mr. Kelly Murphy has been refereeing since 1982. He told me that he used to love to referee that very physical matches that Steve Konopka’s East Hartford teams used to have back during my era against our rival Manchester coached by Barry Bernstein. Murphy said those matches were very rough, tough, and exciting.

In addition, our 138-pound senior captain had a good night by dominating and pinning his opponent. Our 160-pound sophomore went up against a tough Enfield boy and pulled out a victor by pinning him in a far-side half-nelson. We bumped up our 182-pound junior to the next weight class of 195-pounds, and he went out there with both guns blazing and pinned his kid in under 30 seconds. I call him my brawler. He’s my throwback to the old rough and tough days. And he’s really fun to watch.

Unfortunately, the rest of our team was just outmatched tonight. The Enfield team was strong, and they showed it on the mat in just about every weight class. Coach Flynn, Coach Diaz, and the other Enfield coaches are doing a great job over there with their wrestling program. And they also have a strong wrestling youth program in Enfield as well. In contrast, though, we don’t even have a youth program. Hey, good for them. Not so good for us… It was pretty much a painful night for most of us E.O. Panthers though…

Hey, our coaching staff consists of two coaches from Windham, Torres and Rogers. And myself from East Hartford. We grew up very different from the kid of today that we are coaching. Windham has a long history of being a powerhouse wrestling program. They own ten state championship titles. Windham is also a rough and tough town. If a Windham kid comes up against another kid who has more experience and technique than them, it doesn’t mean they were automatically beat. The Windham boys bring a rough style street-fighting instinct to the match where there surely will be a battle. And because of that sure to be battle, the Windham boys always have a chance of somehow winning.

Myself, being from East Hartford, well, while we don’t have a history of ten state championships like Windham, we’re similar in many ways. Every kid we went against was surely going to know he was in a battle and was looking at that clock to hurry and finish up those six minutes.

I think Coach Torres and Coach Rogers knew that Enfield had us outmatched before we even began. So, I believe they wanted our kids to take it to the next level of physicality so that at least the Enfield boys would know they were in one heck of a fight and be praying for it to be over, even if they were winning. We didn’t see that street-level toughness out of our boys tonight. And it’s not very surprising since it’s different times, and our boys’ hometown is a very different place from where their coaches had grown up.

Regardless, Coach Torres wasn’t going to let this one go. Thursday was our hardest practice of the season. It reminded me of the old days. Torres had a fire in his eyes, and he pushed our boys to the brink where I thought some of them would break down and cry, or at least quit. To their credit, they made a lot of noise grunting, but no one cried, and every one of them showed up again the next day for practice. I’m proud of the boys!

During Friday’s practice, Coach Torres was back to his old self wearing that million-dollar smile again. Today’s workout was a good practice that even consisted of a little smiling and laughing. The kids worked hard and seemed to be really interested in learning all they could. At one point during the practice, Dakota got off the bike and said, “Hey, dad, I want to show you a cross-face.” He then proceeded to nearly rip my face off.

“Dang!” I said. “How did you do that? I’ve never been hit with a cross-face like that before!” It sort of reminded me of the grueling tight-waist he showed me last week that no one has ever done to me either. Hmm… I wish I could have seen him wrestle this year. He has some excellent stuff, and he’s tough, too. I wonder how he would have done against Enfield’s stud, who was in his 134-pound weight class…

Other bright points of Friday’s practice was when I showed our 160-pounder how to drag out of being on the bottom in a chicken-wing, and our 182-pounder came over and said, “Hey, that’s a really cool move. Can you show it again?” I also pulled aside our 138-pound captain who has had a nearly flawless season this year and showed him how I think he can improve his chances of scoring when he shoots with some quick drags, and a very cool 1980s dump that I used to beat the heck out of kids. And nobody is really using it anymore. As I suspected, our senior captain had never seen that dump before, and he loved it. Look out other 138-pounders out there, our captain just learned another way to score on you.

Friday’s practice ended, and so did our week. We don’t have a meet tomorrow. Our boys were ordered to do some running on their own, get to bed early, lay off the food, and study for their final exams. And be good young men. And of course, I don’t have the day off. I have a couple of very early morning meetings I need to get to followed by a long day of soccer games for my daughters, which I will repeat on Sunday, too. Sometimes I feel like the Beatles when they used to sing that song, Eight Days a Week…

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*** Finally, check out the very 1st blog of, Hitting the Mat: https://tinyurl.com/w68ubf8

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