HITTING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 35)

Blog 35

Week 10 of Regular Sophomore Season

I had to record a couple of episodes for my weekly Mindalia TV shows tonight, so I missed practice. I’m not liking this missing a practice thing much, but it is what it is, I guess. Sometimes as an adult, duty calls.

When I first talked about possibly becoming one of the coaches of my son’s high school wrestling team, most people shook their heads in disbelief. They said that there was no way I would also be able to fit coaching into my already dizzying schedule. I told them that I couldn’t just give up everything I do beyond my daily 7 AM -3 PM teaching job. But coaching my son and his team for the short amount of time that he will be in high school is important enough for me to scale back, tighten my belt, and find a way somehow to do it.

I believed that anytime at all with me on the mat is better for Dakota and his teammates than no time with me. And I can’t let working a myriad of jobs and life’s stressors keep me from this opportunity to be of service to my son, his team, their school, and the development of the young men of our community. I figured if I could find a way to be there on that wrestling mat with those boys trying to find their way to manhood, then that would be a huge victory for all of us.

However, it would not be fair for me to accept a paid job and not be there all the time. That dilemma worked itself out, though, because I am now a volunteer coach. I don’t get paid a single penny to be the assistant wrestling coach for my son’s high school team. This is an arrangement that I consider to be a win-win, and I’m pleased about it. It’s about twenty-five hours a week with my son and his teammates.

I know I have a lot to offer my son and his teammates. And our local high school personnel have gone the extra mile to put the wrestling team and me together on favorable terms to both parties. I guess this is one of those cases of creative problem-solving. It’s amazing what we can figure out when we work together instead of against each other.

After wrapping up the recording of two television shows, I jumped in my car and drove over to the high school. My son, Dakota, was exiting the building right as I was pulling up. On the way home, we had the liveliest talk that we’ve had in a while. Today was Dakota’s first day of being back on the mat drilling wrestling moves with the other wrestlers and doing some conditioning. No LIVE wrestling though…

On the way home, Dakota gave me the play by play on how practice went. He was excited, and I could even see that he was happy to be tired and worn

Dakota and Coach Jon Torres

out again. Dang… I wish I was there… My wife wished I was there, too… She was a little worried about how Dakota’s knee would handle his first day of drilling. She wanted me there to pull him out if I saw that it wasn’t going well.

But tonight, we had to rely on Coach Torres and Rogers to make that call of whether or not Dakota’s knee was holding up. And it appears that it all went well… Maybe Dakota’s comeback really will happen… From this first practice back drilling, it sounds like it will, even if he did get a black and blue above his knee tonight. Not to worry about it, though. It wasn’t on his knee but above it.

When we got home, Dakota even told me, without me asking, that he worked on his stance tonight to more closely mimic the stance I used to use when I was in high school. I’ve been talking to him for over a year now on his stance, but he wanted to do things his way. I’m pumped that he is finally seeing the logic in improving his stance.

Dang…! I wish I was there tonight. I wish I didn’t have to miss this awesome comeback practice that Dakota just had. And I wish that I didn’t have to miss tomorrow night’s practice, too. Adult duty calls again… I have my elected union officer job to attend to tomorrow night, which will draw me away for the second night in a row from wrestling practice… Hopefully, Dakota’s practice goes just as well as tonight’s did…

Tuesday was a long day. After teaching all day, I went to my local union job in New Britain for a couple of hours. I then went to my state-wide union one in Rocky Hill for a couple of more hours. By the time I got home, I was exhausted and not quite ready for the robust greeting I walked into the moment I came through my front door.

Dakota’s knee was causing him pain again. And the coaches were asking him to go to the doctor’s to get permission to wrestle all three matches on this upcoming Saturday. My wife, Dakota’s mom, wasn’t having any of that. And she let me know it. She was frustrated. Dakota was frustrated. And I was frustrated… I’m just not sure how this is going to turn out… And I can see that it’s eating at my boy…

Today, we will wrestle the tough Bristol Central at home. Dakota checked his weight this morning, and he was two pounds over. Since his knee was hurting last night, I’m not even sure that he can make weight today. Nor if he should even try since he’s probably shouldn’t try to run and he’s not wrestling tonight anyway.

A text later in the day from my wife frustrated all of us, even more, when she shared that Dakota is having sharp knee pains in school… Shortly after that, Dakota sent a picture via text that shows his knee is all swollen up again… Dang… This is driving me crazy… Maybe I should just sit him for the next two months…

As expected, Bristol Central brought a skilled, very large, and powerful team to our gymnasium tonight. Unexpectedly, Dakota made weight, even though he couldn’t run, nor is he wrestling tonight. To his mother’s dismay, he spit off eight-tenths of a pound after not eating all day.

Well, things went well for Bristol Central, but not so well for us. We lost the first several matches right out of the gate and didn’t manage to get on the board until our 138-pound senior captain stepped onto the mat at the 145-pound weight class. He wrestled a tough kid who put him on his back once. But our boy was able to fight his way through it and win the match anyway. After the match, I showed him a couple of things he could have done differently.

Our next win came from our 160-pound sophomore and then another one from our 170-pound junior who used to be our 182-pounder. Both of these boys wrestled very tough and beat pretty good kids.

And that was it for our wins tonight. Just three. But, what might have been even worse was seeing our 132-pound sophomore still sitting on the bench with a large knee again. Everyone wants Dakota to wrestle again, but his knee just won’t cooperate. And even though I love wrestling, in my view, his knee is what’s really important here.

Also, I believe that wrestling is the tool or vehicle one uses to build a good man. But in the end, it’s just the tool or vehicle. Wrestling is not the end goal or destination in my mind. Becoming a good man of character is the end goal or destination through the use of wrestling if it’s available. And if it’s not, and one has to use a different tool or vehicle for a while to head toward that destination of becoming a good man, then we go to plan “B.” Remember, there are many roads to Rome, as well as many ways to become a good man.

But, in the meantime, we are still going to continue to take this day by day and see what happens. Maybe Dakota can make it back for the States, and maybe he won’t.

On Thursday, Dakota’s knee is still swollen. Ironically, even though Dakota didn’t have a doctor’s appointment, the doctor’s note of release allowing him to wrestle again came today. But the school trainer said Dakota wasn’t ready to wrestle today after looking at his knee. Dakota spent the practice riding the bike again. The coaching staff and Dakota were frustrated beyond belief.

Friday, Dakota had physical therapy. And my wife had a long talk with the physical therapist. He is being cautious but believes there is still a chance that Dakota can somehow make it back for States if everything goes perfect. Dakota doesn’t mind having to ice a swollen knee every night. But, for today’s practice, Dakota is not to wrestle. He is only to do physical therapy stuff.

I approach Head Coach Torres with a plan to get Dakota back for the States. Coach doesn’t like it and says he’s going to pull Dakota for the rest of the season. I talked him out of it and convinced him to continue to take it day-by-day and wait and see. When practice finished, Coach Torres approached me again and said that he thought about it some more and that he is going to sit Dakota for the rest of the season… He just can’t see sense in putting Dakota through the grueling strain of a State Tournament without the necessary practices to be ready for it. This was a hard pill for me to swallow. And I couldn’t say anything at the time. All I could do was sigh.

Saturday was a great tournament in Colchester, even though Dakota didn’t wrestle in it. He was happy, though that he didn’t have to make weight for this one. I followed the bus up because I had to leave mid-day to bring my two youngest girls to their futsal games while my wife attended to her tasks with our two oldest daughters. The first two rounds went well for our boys. Just last night, they were looking like George Washington’s ragtag army, where they all appeared either sick or hurt. But, like real warriors, they sucked it up when the duty of wrestling called them into combat for each match.

Very early in the day, I ran into my old East Hartford wrestling buddy, Ryan Fitch, who is the head coach of RHAM. He had somehow found out that Dakota’s knee had swelled up again. He said he was sorry and that I should probably sit him for the rest of the season.

Later, while consoling one of our kids who had just been pinned and trying to explain to him what really matters is that he is making the commitment to getting better and tougher every week, and not this last match, someone overhooked me from my blindside. I turned and saw my old East Hartford buddy Pat Moynihan whose two boys are wrestling for the powerhouse wrestling team Xavier. Immediately I feigned a hip-toss on him followed up by the chain wrestling of a back-trip. It was so cool to see my buddy that goes all the way back to the second grade. After a short talk about our sons, he too said I should sit Dakota for the rest of the season.

Late morning I took off and got my girls over to their futsal (Brazilian soccer) games. They both played well and had fun. We won our first game and lost our second. But, even though we lost our second to a team that we already beat, I believe, according to the point system, we’re still in first place in the league.

The girls and I got back to Dakota’s wrestling tournament just in time to see the medal rounds. They kept pulling at my shirt to go play tag with them. I kept telling them we had a wrestler coming up, so we had to wait. And since we had five boys in the medal rounds, they did have to wait quite a bit, but at the same time, we did also manage to pull off a few short rounds of playing tag too away from the wrestling.

While I was waiting for our boys to wrestle, I ran into another one of my old East Hartford wrestling buddies, Kevin Kanaitis, the former Head Coach of RHAM and wrestling referee. His parents were there too. And I couldn’t help but reminisce for a moment how his parents were also there 35-years ago watching me and Kevin’s older brother, Scott, wrestle. Now they were there again watching their grandchildren while we watched our children wrestle. You gotta love the wrestling community. It’s a tightknit clan.

Well, our 138-pound senior captain did it again with another first-place victory. Our 170-pound junior finished second. Our 160-pound sophomore finished 3rd. And our 113-pound sophomore finished 5th, as well as did our 126-pound junior. I can’t help but wonder where Dakota would have finished today…


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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