OWNING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 4)

Owning the Mat Blog 4

Week 4


Mentally, Dakota seemed to be in a better place this week. Last Saturday was hard on him. But, I asked him how he was handling it, and he said he was fine. I watched him a little bit in practice Monday night, and he looked like the old Dakota. Although, I must admit that I didn’t really get that much time to watch him because I was working with our brand-new heavyweight wrestler who stands about 6’4″ and weighs 295-pounds.

I am very excited about this new kid. He’s full of natural talent that just needs to find a way to come out of him. He wants to eventually wrestle in college and go to Harvard Law School. Coach Corrente, Coach Rogers, and I have only one short year to help this kid reach for his goals.

So, as I said above, I’m happy with the new addition to our team. Still, he has been challenging to train because he’s so much bigger and stronger than me and everyone else on the team, too. He pushes me around like I’m some kind of rag doll. In addition, my backache seems to be getting worse and worse this week. And my sore back is making everything I do throughout the day more challenging. When I mentioned my back hurting to Dakota in the car ride home after practice, he reminded me of how his knee still hurts. That comment from Dakota pretty much put things back into perspective for me, and I stopped complaining to him about my back pain.

On Tuesday, I once again only caught glimpses of Dakota working out because I was working individually with our heavyweight wrestler again. Practice seemed to go well for all the kids. On the way home, Dakota told me that the wrestling culture and climate this year is the best that he has ever seen it for E.O. Smith. I had to agree. There seems to be something special in the air about this wrestling team filled with young and unassuming boys. Most of the team is still green, but there is something special about them.

Dakota also told me that he hit a super duckunder on our 145-pounder, Ben and that Caleb, our 138-pounder, said that that was the smoothest move he had ever seen in his life. I’m pretty sure I smiled from ear to ear upon hearing how smooth Dakota looked at practice tonight, according to one of his teammates. We have to wrestle against Rocky Hill tomorrow night. And I’m hoping that Dakota wrestles well and can gain back more confidence and momentum with a good solid victory. However, only time will tell.

Wednesday was a crazy day. Dakota woke up with a stuffy nose, and I received a terrible phone call from the hospital. My father had just passed away from Covid. These two events were a lousy way for Dakota and me to start our day. However, regardless of what was going on in our lives, the team needed both of us to be at our best that night. Rocky Hill is very well-coached and would be a tough match.

We began the night by forfeiting our four lightest weight classes to Rocky Hill. Our new heavyweight also had to work, so we had to bump up one of our 220s to the 285-pound weight class, where he would have to go up against a guy a lot bigger than himself. We were at a terrible disadvantage and down by a lot of points before our first wrestler even stepped onto the mat.

But, when our first wrestler stepped onto the mat at 132-pounds, he fought hard and secured a pin with those famous half-nelsons of his. Next, our 138-pounder stepped on the mat. He quickly pinned his female opponent. Our 145-pounder, who is a bit green still, secured the first takedown and fired us all up even more. However, later his inexperience got the best of him, and he was rolled to his back and pinned.

Next, Dakota stepped on the mat at 152-pounds. Coach Rogers looked at me and said, “This guy looks good.” I had to agree. The Rocky Hill wrestler confirmed what we thought by getting the match’s first takedown against Dakota. My heart raced. However, Dakota was able to stand up and get away for a 1-point escape. Then Dakota hit a beautiful high-C and took the Rocky Hill wrestler down to the mat for two more points. Okay, this will be one of those back and forth battles, I thought. I knew Dakota wasn’t feeling all that well… So, I was nervous. I was kind of hoping he’d have an easy match. But that wasn’t meant to be, I guess.

Second period, Dakota picked down, but instead of getting back up to his feet, he got cradled and put on his back. My heart almost jumped out of my chest. Dakota valiantly fought his way out of the cradle and then got back to his feet as the kid hit Dakota with a fancy trip and brought Dakota back down. Dakota immediately got back up to his feet again. When the kid tried his trip again, Dakota stepped over it and secured the reversal for two more points. Then Dakota hit the kid with a great tilt and secured three more points.

The match went into the third period, which I was hoping it wouldn’t because I knew Dakota’s nose was stuffed up, and he was having difficulty breathing through it. But after a flurry of moves in the third period, Dakota managed to sink in a deep half-nelson on his opponent. He drove the Rocky Hill kid to his back and secured the pin and a win for his team.

This was a great match and a great confidence builder for Dakota. This Rocky Hill wrestler was well-coached, big, and athletic. But Dakota still managed to pin him, even while not being at his best. I think this is exactly what Dakota needed. He overcame some adversity and found himself on the top. I know I wanted him to have an easy match because he wasn’t at his best. But, in the long run, growth comes best at the outer ranges of our comfort level. And this match was a good example of that for both Dakota and his father/coach.

Our next wrestler, who should have been wrestling at 145-pounds, lost in the 160-pound weight class. Next, one of our newer kids, who should have been our 160-pounder, fought a match that none of us will soon forget. He showed courage beyond belief to pull off a thrilling win in the higher weight class. His teammates were impressed with his gutsy performance and told him so.

Next, we lost a pair of tough matches with a couple of our newer guys. When we finally got to our 220-pounder, who had taken 1st place in the previous weekend tournament, he was fired up and ready to pound on his opponent. However, Rocky Hill didn’t want to give us any team momentum, so they forfeited that weight class. We then went straight to our heavyweight class, where our first-year wrestler was at a big disadvantage. Our boy lost the match, and Rocky Hill secured the team victory over us. Our kids fought hard, but the inexperience combined with all the forfeits we gave up was too big of a hill to climb that night for our young boys.

Sean and his mom came out of the stands to say hi to me after the meet. Sean is the boy who was supposed to be our captain this year but injured his shoulder during football season. We sure could have used him at 170-pounds. However, it was great to see Sean and his mom. I wish they could have enjoyed a victory with us that night, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. I encouraged Sean to come on down to a practice to help the younger guys with some good advice. But I could still see the pain on his face of not being able to wrestle his senior year. Hopefully, we’ll see more of him during the season.

I had mentioned earlier that Rocky Hill was a very well-coached team. Paul Myers, who I have known for a long time, is their head coach. He is the son of Dr. Myers, who some would call a legend around these parts. Way back in the day, Dr. Myers trained our head coach, Coach Bill Corrente to multiple state titles. Dr. Myers was also my high school gym teacher. We all love Dr. Myers and miss him. There is even a wrestling tournament named after him called the Doc Myers Tournament. Well, not only is Rocky Hill technically sound and well-coached, but they are also filled with good young men and women. Without anyone asking them, as soon as the meet ended, they helped our E.O. Smith boys roll up the mats and put away the chairs. Thanks, Rocky Hill.

Right after the Rocky Hill meet, I find myself in foreign territory. Christmas is this Saturday, so we don’t have any competition this upcoming weekend. Also, the school is closed on Friday, Christmas Eve, so we can’t have practice on Friday. Coach Rogers suggested we give the boys Thursday off and just tell them to do some running and lifting on their own. I thought a mini-break would be perfect because Dakota wasn’t feeling well, and we were still going to be able to get practices in next week on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday for our Thursday match. Our new head coach, Bill Corrente, saw this wisdom and agreed to give them a mini-vacation. I don’t think I’ve ever had a little mini-vacation during wrestling season, so again, this is kind of weird, but I welcome it. I want to give Dakota some time to get over his cold without giving it to any of his teammates.

Living in the times we live in, things just got more complicated. As I mentioned above, my father died on Wednesday from Covid. Now, it’s Friday, and Dakota is still not feeling well. He has the symptoms of a cold, which are also the symptoms of Covid. Dakota hadn’t been anywhere around my father, so he obviously didn’t catch anything from my dad. However, he has been around a lot of other people in school and on the wrestling circuit.

Dakota is vaccinated and is scheduled to get his booster shot at the beginning of next week. So I still believe that he has just a cold that many other people also have at this time of the year. However, we can’t help but worry about Dakota, so we will get him tested for Covid just in case. I’m feeling about 99% sure he will test negative. But, if he does test positive, it’s going to mess up a lot of things for him, his team, and our family. Please, Lord. Let it just be a cold…

The test came back positive. Dakota has Covid. We were supposed to be hosting Christmas at our home, but we just had to cancel it. We let the head coach Bill Corrente know about Dakota. And he let us know that another wrestler on our team also just reported having Covid. This is exactly what we were all trying to avoid. Now, what…? This is going to mess a lot of things up…