HITTING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 41)

Blog 41

Junior Year, February 20th


 This is the weekend of February 20th. It’s supposed to be the weekend of the Class L State Championships here in Connecticut. My son, Dakota, was supposed to have had a great season racking up many wins. I also pictured him placing in the States at 145 pounds just as his Dad had done at his age. But… it wasn’t meant to be. The Covid 19 pandemic canceled our wrestling season and took away Dakota’s chance to wrestle this year.

Last year at this time, we were trying to get Dakota’s knee healthy enough for him to salvage his lost sophomore season. We were hoping he’d wrestle in the States and win some matches there to offset not wrestling during the year.

Dakota battled hard in the States his freshman year at his Dad’s old freshmen weight class of 126-pounds. And he did pretty well by taking the 5th seeded wrestler deep into the 3rd period before losing the match. His sophomore year, at 132-pounds, I thought Dakota could place in the States for sure. But, it didn’t happen because his knee surgery kept him sidelined the entire season, regardless of how much physical therapy he did.

This year, even with Dakota missing his whole sophomore year, I thought he’d have a really good season and do very well in the States. I thought for sure he’d do well enough to qualify for the State Open tournament. There was a small piece of me that was wishfully hoping he’d win the Class L State Championship as a junior at the 145-pound class. I had won States my junior year at 145-pounds in the Class LL State Championship. Like father like son. Another title would have been so cool. But… it didn’t happen. Life throws curveballs at us more often than it doesn’t.

In some ways, Dakota’s arc of wrestling has been very similar to mine. Dakota didn’t wrestle until high school, like me. He wrestled at 126-pounds like me, his freshman year, even though he is much taller than I was at that age. He even made the varsity team as just a freshman and had a winning record and a good showing in States. Just like I did at his age. And if his team had awarded the “Rookie of the Year” trophy, I think he had an excellent chance of winning it as I had done all those years ago.

Dakota’s sophomore year, he had grown some more and now was a lot taller than me. But somehow, he still made weight for the 132-pound weight class. The same weight class I had wrestled as a sophomore. In my sophomore year, I ran into some issues with being sick and missed a few matches. Dakota had knee surgery and missed the whole season of competition.

However, he never missed a practice, just like I didn’t when I broke my finger my freshman year. My sophomore year, I placed in States, and we all thought Dakota would too if we could just get his knee back, but as I said earlier, it didn’t happen. It just wasn’t meant to be his sophomore year.

In my junior year, I jumped up two weight classes to 145 pounds and won the Class LL States. I knew in my heart, and from lots of coaching experience for many years, that it was a very big ask for Dakota to do the same. But I also knew there was a slimmer of hope that he could indeed do it. This year, Dakota’s junior year, he weighed in at 145-pounds, and his knee seemed to be fully back. It was a long shot, but there was a chance for him to do something really big this season… However, Covid moved in… and we all know what happened next… No more wrestling in Connecticut.

This year we had no States. No wrestling season. And there won’t be any Spring off-season wrestling either here in this part of Southern New England. Now the question becomes, will there be any wrestling this summer and/or next fall to get Dakota ready for his senior year of man’s oldest sport… and his last chance to reach his goal of being a high school wrestling state champ…

I sure hope so, but if, for some reason, things don’t work out and Dakota doesn’t reach his goal of becoming a high school state champion, well, it’s not the end of the world. I’d love to see him do it. But it’s also okay if he doesn’t do it, as long as he gives it his all. And if he gives it his all, and it doesn’t work out. I will still be proud of him because I will have known by then that wrestling has helped him become a good young man.


Click here to learn more about the wrestling book Dan Gable and Larry Owings wrote the Foreword and Introduction for:

Hitting the Mat: The Making of A State Champion or at Least Good Man