HITTING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 34)

Blog 34

Week 9 of Regular Sophomore Season

It’s Monday again. And guess what? I missed wrestling practice today. Near the end of my workday of teaching, I got a call from my wife. She and my daughter were at an urgent care center and that they were being sent to the Connecticut Children’s Hospital in Hartford. The doctors were very concerned with what was going on with my 8th-grade daughter, Savanna.

My wife let me know that a family friend had agreed to drive Dakota to wrestling practice, and then come back a few hours later to pick him up and drive him home. My wife’s sister took our other daughters to her house and then to their soccer practices. Thank goodness for family and friends.

I texted Coach Torres and Coach Rogers to let them know that I wouldn’t be at practice tonight. I hate missing wrestling practice. I hate not being there to help the team out. But, in a situation like this, family comes first. Coach Torres and Coach Rogers were nothing but supportive. They told me to go be with my little girl in her time of need.

It was a very long and exhausting day and night in the hospital that was being overrun with patients who had the same flu-like virus that my daughter was diagnosed with. Thankfully, we were now back home. And we were very thankful to be watching our much improved daughter sleeping in her own bed. Wrestling and Dakota will have to wait until tomorrow.

Tomorrow is here and so is wrestling again. Practice went well. The atmosphere felt light and kind of fun. Dakota was up and down from the stationary exercise bike mixing in some pedaling, calisthenics, and some tips he shared with teammates on technique.

Dakota tells me that he feels that his knee is getting better, but he still can’t bend it all the way. And that has both of us a bit concerned.

Practice finishes up with some sprints in which I feel lucky to participate in, even if I am still coming in last for now. Eventually, I won’t be last anymore. Coach Torres also jumps in too to run sprints with the boys, and practice ends on a pretty good note. One of our upper-weights even slapped me on the back and said, “Good job, Coach.” Pretty cool, huh?

Everything seems to be good except for Dakota. He is still three pounds over for tomorrow’s weigh-in. We’re wrestling East Catholic. Unfortunately, once again, Dakota won’t be wrestling. I can see on his face that he is frustrated with the strenuous efforts it takes to make weight and how it’s even harder now when he’s not even wrestling tomorrow. Boy, I tell you, if someone wants to test what they’re made of by doing something hard and frustrating, wrestling is definitely something one should try.

On a positive note, I’ve dropped about five pounds a month over these first two months of wrestling season so far, equaling a ten-pound loss. My clothes are fitting a little bit better again, and I’m hoping I can continue this trend into and thru the third and last month of this wrestling. So, in contrast to my son Dakota, who hates losing weight, I’m kind of enjoying losing some weight. Thanks, wrestling…

I notice some daylight today for the first time this season as my wife, and I are pulling up to the high school for our weekly Wednesday wrestling meet. It’s just a bit after five o’clock. And I’m drawn back to when I was a kid wrestling, as well as last season when I was in my garage putting on my shoes for the East Catholic match when I also saw some light coming through the window. The visible daylight reminded me back then like it did when I was a kid, as it does also on this Wednesday night that this season is winding down. We only have about three weeks left.

East Catholic, which was the first team I ever coached way back when I was just 20 years old, is dealing with the illness that is going around that has sidelined four of their wrestlers. Tonight’s meet is at home, which is a good thing for us because some of our home fans get to watch us wrestle. We wrestled well from the beginning to the end tonight and supplied our fans who a hometown victory.

Once again, our first-year 113-pound wrestler wrestled tough tonight. He won two matches convincingly against decent opponents. He’s having a first-year wrestler dream season. Some of our less experienced guys also pulled off big wins tonight, too. So, everyone is happy. For our last match of the night, our 120-pound jayvee wrestler used a move I showed him, and he pinned his kid capping off the night on a high note. He came off the mat and high-fived me. But, he missed my hand. And instead jammed my thumb. Thus, causing the smile to run away from my face replaced by a grimace of pain.

As I turned to look at our pumped-up team while holding my thumb, I thought about how crazy it is to be reminded that one could get hurt at any time in this sport, even if they’re not wrestling. As I’m reflecting and nursing my thumb, I see my son Dakota, who still hasn’t wrestled a single day this season yet, and I think about how I can feel his pain. And it really hurts, especially right now, in my thumb and heart. I hope my thumb and Dakota are okay soon…

Well, it turns out that I didn’t need my thumb this Thursday except for the power-point clicker I’m using at the speech I’m delivering to the American Federation of teachers. I can’t believe this, but I’m missing a second practice this week. However, this speech was scheduled way before the wrestling season began. And people are expecting me to be there and deliver a speech that makes it worth their time to be there, too.

I’m psyched! The speech went well and I was hired on the spot for two more speeches from people out of the audience. And even better, is what happened next. When I got home, I went to Dakota’s bedroom to ask him how wrestling went today, and he told me that his knee is feeling better and better and can almost bend it all the way know. He even showed me how he can now get into the referee position, which he couldn’t do before. My mind begins racing that maybe this season isn’t a wash. How cool would it be if Dakota came back for the State Tournament and actually placed in it…? Yeah… against all odds… placed in the States… Hmm…

Dang… now I have that terrible cold that’s been whipping around here. Friday at work was a long day. However, I did make to wrestling practice today. But decided not to dress and coach from afar so I wouldn’t get any of the kids sick. As I arrived at practice, I can already see that about half of the team is already ill or still ill. Dang again… Tomorrow is going to be a long day…

However, on a good note, Dakota comes over and we do a father-son hug like we always do. The female wrestling managers collectively give an, “Ahh… that’s so cute…” I smile and enjoy the moment because I know that it is something special that Dakota and I have. He also tells me that physical therapy went well today and that he can now bend his knee enough to get into the referee position again. Cool. Very cool. Coach Torres and I begin immediately strategizing how we can get him back into the lineup for the upcoming State Tournament, or even sooner.

Saturday morning Dakota and I are pulling up to the high school in the dark once again to catch our 6:00 AM bus. As we’re pulling into the parking lot, I discuss with Dakota how someday he may be the senior captain of this team. And on how days like this, he needs to show real leadership by being the first wrestler here and the last one to leave. And then if he ever becomes a coach, he needs to be the first person there and the last one to leave as well. Heck, I even revert back to my old army days and through in that he also needs to be the last one to eat. And that he needs to assure that all of his men have eaten and been taking care of first before he eats… Maybe it was a little over the top, but that’s what I learned in the military, and I still believe that that’s good leadership. One always takes care of their men first and leads by example.

Dakota didn’t make weight today. He missed it by a few tenths of a pound. We weren’t happy about it, but it’s not the end of the world, especially since he’s not even wrestling in today’s tournament. And speaking of today’s tournament. We are in Rocky Hill for the Doc Myers Wrestling Tournament, where my old buddy Paul Myers is the head wrestling coach. Many years ago, I wrestled with his younger brother John Myers in the Junior Olympics.

Today’s tournament is extra special to me for a lot of reasons. One, Paul Myers and I go way back on the coaching circuit. Also, Paul’s dad, the former Dr. Edward Myers, was my high school gym teacher in East Hartford, where he was a legend. Dr. Myers refereed the 1964 and 1968 Olympic Wrestling Trials. He was also the football coach, wrestling coach, and athletic director, as well as gym teacher at my old high school. I think he even started our wrestling program… I’m also thinking about writing a book about East Hartford Wrestling, which would obviously include Dr. Myers in it. So, talking with his son Paul today was extra special today.

We got off to a rough start today with our first two guys losing. Coach Torres pulled the whole team into the locker room and just ripped into them about how they’re not being real men. Real men suck it up and find ways to fight to the bitter end. Real men don’t give up and let themselves be pinned. Coach was furious! However, after everyone left the locker room to go back to the gym, I called the two wrestlers who had just lost back in. Then I went over what they could have done differently to win those matches. And hopefully, next time they will win their matches.

Our sick team struggled through the day, and Dakota looked really bored up in the stands. We did have some bright spots though thru this very long day. Our 138- pound senior captain lost a thriller in the semi-finals by just one point. Then wrestled back and convincingly took third place. Our sophomore 160-pounder took first place while sick. Our 182-pounder, also ill, dropped down to the 170-pound weight class and had an absolutely thrilling day of wrestling. He’s our warrior. And we never know which way his matches will go.

In the semi-finals, the score was 9-9 with 9 seconds on the clock. Our boy went into attack mode and threw the other boy to his back for a huge win that put the whole gym on their feet. In the finals, with about 20 seconds left on the clock and down by 1 point, he went on attack mode again. He lifted his kid up off the mat for what looked like another amazing win. Only this time it was thwarted on the way down by his opponent causing him to lose the match and take second place as time expired and everyone in the gymnasium came to their feet once again. Both boys deserved the tremendous applause they both got.

On another note, our 170-pounder also did an exhibition match against Rocky Hill’s autistic wrestler. He gracefully let the boy take him down. He then let the boy throw a half-nelson on him. Coach Rogers went through the motions and yelled, “Look away.” Our boy put on a pretend struggle and then let the autistic wrestler turn him to his back. The referee slapped the mat while blowing the whistle. The boys got back to their feet, shook hands, and the referee raised the hand of the Rocky Hill boy in victory. The crowd went wild once again for a match and performance that our 170-pounder made possible. It was one of those great moments in sports. And both boys deserved the overwhelming applause that they got. Coach Rogers and I melted when we saw the smile on the Rocky Hill boy’s face when he came over after the match to shake our hands…

Another good week of wrestling… A tough one for sure… but another good one!


Here’s a poem I found at the Doc Myers Tournament that I want to share with you.



The winner of a match is a matter of opinion.

This is sometimes lost in a victory’s celebration.

The winner is not the one whose hand is raised,

It’s not the person a sportswriter praised.

No matter how bad a wrestler is beat,

With his head hanging low,

Walking back to his seat,

The winner is the one who bites his lip and tells himself

It’ll be different next trip.


The winner is not one to lay back on a win,

He will not stop until he gets the pin.

He can be behind by 14 points,

He may be aching in muscles and joints,

But you can be sure, no matter how much time remains,

He’ll be hustling all the time and forget his pains.

If you say to yourself, I tried my best,

Then you know, win or lose, you’re as good as the rest.


Sure it’s nice to get 1st place at States,

And be recognized as one of the all-time greats.

But a time will come when someone will say,

I remember him, he was a scrapper in his day.

The winner is not always the champion of the contest.

It’s the person who works hard and never rests.

The word “Winner” has lost its meaning.

And the scores in the paper can often be deceiving.

To please the crowd is always a lot of fun,

But only you can get satisfaction from a job well done.

It’s not always easy to meet the demands

of those that are yelling for you up in the stands.

The winner is the one who can take a defeat,

His good sportsmanship tells that only in the score was he beat.

He’ll always be the winner, in this he can take pride,

If deep in his heart he knows that he tried.

By Steve Greenly


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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