OWNING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 5)

Owning the Mat Blog 5

Week 5


As a wrestling coach, I’ve never experienced a week like this before. Sunday, the day after Christmas, I took Dakota and the rest of my family, all seven of us, to Rec Park in Windham. There, the medical professionals gave us the PCR Covid test. I was worried about the exposure we all had from Dakota. And I was praying that Dakota’s first test was a false positive.

On Monday, our head coach, Bill Corrente, let me know that another wrestler on our team also had Covid. Also, our athletic director had canceled our practice that day and put Covid protocols into action. All the wrestlers on our ten-person team are considered exposed to the virus. Half our team (5) are not vaccinated and thus cannot practice for the next ten days. The other five vaccinated wrestlers can come back to practice the next day.

However, two of our five vaccinated wrestlers have Covid, and a third isn’t feeling well. So, those three wrestlers also have to stay home. We now only have two eligible wresters left to wrestle this week. With this in mind, head coach Bill Corrente reached out to Windham and let them know that we wouldn’t be showing up for their Thursday team tournament.

Tuesday, we got both good news and bad news. The bad news was that it was confirmed that Dakota does indeed have Covid. However, the rest of our family doesn’t. Because I am vaccinated and boostered, I could coach Tuesday’s wrestling practice. However, when I arrived at practice, I saw only one wrestler there. The other had gone off to a high-level baseball practice that he and his family considered very important. It’s a different era. With kids playing multiple sports year-round, sometimes it’s difficult to tell what sports season it is. It was simpler when I was younger. Wintertime was wrestling time.

For the first time in my coaching career, the coaches outnumbered the wrestlers at the holiday practices. We’ve had only one wrestler to work with on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. On Thursday, the second wrestler showed up. But, on Friday, our athletic director closed the school again like he had done earlier this week on Monday. No athletes or coaches were allowed in the school building on Friday because of Covid.

As discouraging as it was to only have one and then two wrestlers to work with this week, I think we made good use of our time. We actually started off each practice warming up by playing a little basketball. Our wrestler, who came to us from the basketball team, beat Coach Corrente and me on Tuesday and Wednesday during our warm-ups. It was fun, though. After warming up, we had the luxury of rolling out only one mat section instead of all three. This made setting up the wrestling area and then breaking it back down after practice easier and quicker.

By the end of each two-hour practice, I felt good about what we had accomplished with our one wrestler on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then the two wresters on Thursday. We watched the previous matches against New Britain and then Rocky Hill, and then we taught both boys how they could have won each one of those matches ten different ways. By the end of our Thursday practices, I felt our wrestlers had learned a lot. I thought that our time had been well spent on these three days. I actually felt good about how we coaches had added real value to these young wrestlers’ lives. We were glad to have the luxury of spending some individual time with the wrestlers. I guess this is what they call turning lemons into lemonade, right? Now I just hope they can apply what we’ve taught them out there on the mat in their next match.

Speaking of our next match, we don’t have a meet this Saturday because it’s New Year’s Day. However, next Wednesday, we’re going up against my alma mater, East Hartford High School. Many years ago I was their wrestling captain with their present-day head coach, Todd Albert. Todd has an outstanding team. They are big in numbers, well-coached, and tough. We will be pairing up our ten wrestlers, most of whom are in quarantine right now and aren’t able to work out, up against some good East Hartford boys. I must admit, I’m a bit worried about this one. And to top it off, Dakota is still in bed sick with Covid. And if he does make it back for the East Hartford match, he will have his hands full with their 152-pounder, who is an outstanding wrestler and who had just won the Manchester wrestling tournament.

Covid is driving all of us crazy. The life of a wrestler is never easy. But now, throw in Covid on top of everything, and we got this thing my drill sergeants in the Army used to say a lot that I cannot repeat here because it’s very inappropriate. But… I think you know what I’m getting at here, don’t you? We don’t like Covid… It’s screwing everything up and putting our people in harm’s way.

What the heck is going to happen next week when the kids all across our state bring their holiday Covid infections back into our school buildings? Right now, Connecticut is peaking at an infection rate of over 20%, our highest so far. Next week’s holiday spike will probably blow us off the charts…

However, thankfully, my boss just reminded me of something my grandma frequently said when I was a young man. My boss, the high school principal of the school where I teach, called me today to see how I was doing with my father’s death and my son’s illness from Covid. He reminded me that these tough times will pass. This conversation with Jay, my boss, caused a memory of my late grandma to flood my mind with a pearl of wisdom I would like to share will all of you right now. My grandma frequently told me, “This too shall pass.”

In closing for this week, I’d like to wish all of you a Happy New Year! And let’s all pray that 2022 is the last year of this Covid pandemic. Suppose it follows the track of the 1918-1920 Spanish Flu, which lasted three years, according to some historians. In that case, this will indeed be the last year for Covid being a series threat. And wrestling, sports, and us humans will survive this and go on to live full, normal lives again.

Rest in peace, dad. And to all those infected, I wish you a speedy full recovery. And to all the wrestlers out there, I wish you unimpeded mat time in 2022!