OWNING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 6)

Owning the Mat Blog 6

Week 6

Here we go. Week six! It’s Monday, and we have 8 of our 10 wrestlers back for practice. For 90% of them, this is their first wrestling practice in 10 days. The boys looked like they were moving in slow motion today. The wrestlers were slow at everything they did, from putting out the mat, warming up, drilling, wrestling, cleaning up, and putting the mat away at the end of practice. I found myself frequently clapping my hands and hooting and hollering to try to get them to move faster, but nothing seemed to work. Maybe they had too many holiday cookies still sitting in their guts…

Fresh off of a Covid infection, Dakota also looked tired today. We’re not ready for our Wednesday match against East Hartford, ranked #10 in the state. But, it seems like East Hartford might not be prepared for us either. The other day, their head coach, my old buddy Todd Albert, told me they were down to only five kids practicing because of Covid. It was the perfect storm. Both of our teams were decimated with Covid. Most of our wrestlers just got back. And now there is a new record-breaking Covid rate of 24% in Connecticut. So, we decided to postpone our meet against East Hartford to later in the season.

I feel a little better knowing that we now have a few more days to get the kids back in the groove of wrestling again because they didn’t look much better at Tuesday’s practice. I found myself yelling out a few times that it seems like they haven’t sweated off their holiday cookies yet. Once again, the wrestlers looked lethargic and nowhere close to being in wrestling shape.

On a positive note, I was happy to attend practice on Tuesday due to the wonderful gift of Zoom. I am not just a teacher and coach but also a teacher union officer. Tuesday, I had two union meetings to attend, one for the city I teach in, and the other was a state-level meeting. Before Covid hit our country, I would have had to be in person at both of those meetings and would have missed wrestling practice that day.

However, I did my first meeting in my car on my hour drive home, thanks to Zoom. Then I did my second meeting while eating dinner, driving Dakota to wrestling practice, and then finished it up as the kids were rolled out the wrestling mats and warmed up. My zoom meeting ended just before the coaches took the mat. Now’s that’s some pretty good multitasking and good use of time, wouldn’t you agree? Thanks, Zoom.

I was also happy that I spent some time individually going over the videos with some of our wrestlers of their previous matches with them this week. I saw the light go on a few times in my wrestlers’ eyes when I explained little things to them that they could have done differently. Then I had them practice these new moves with me so I was sure they could execute them next time. A few of them even said, “Man, if I had known that before, I would have won that match.” My response was, “Well, now you do know it. So, the next time you meet up with that kid, you have a much better chance of beating him.”

A crazy ice storm rolled in on Wednesday morning, right during the morning commute. This made my hour-drive to work very dangerous. There were car accidents and bus accidents all over the place. Educators everywhere were complaining about how terrible the drive in was and upset that school superintendents put staff and students in danger by not delaying the start of school.

Later that morning, I received a text message from the E.O. Smith athletic director saying, “All practices, events, and games today are canceled.” I guess our wrestling meet with East Hartford was destined not to happen. Now, I don’t feel so bad that we pulled out of the meet with them earlier this week.

We let our wrestlers know that they needed to get some kind of workout in on their own and to lay off the leftover holiday cookies that night. We’re missing another opportunity to get a wrestling practice in that we had scheduled in lieu of the meet. And that’s not a good thing, considering how much the boys have already missed and how none of them look like they’re in wrestling shape. In addition, they all have a bunch of holiday weight to lose, too.

Thursday was a tough day in many ways. Our head coach Bill Corrente decided to pull our team out of Saturday’s tournament in Lebanon. He was concerned with our wrestlers’ safety and didn’t want to repeat what happened from the earlier Waterford Tournament. After the Waterford Tournament, Waterford’s team got shut down because of Covid. Two of our guys caught Covid at that tournament, and 90% of our team had to go into a 10-day quarantine. Just getting back from this fiasco, Coach didn’t want to immediately go through the same thing all over again.

Furthermore, Covid has been spiking in Connecticut since the kids returned to school from vacation and brought their unknown Covid infections back into the state’s school buildings. In addition, we did an internet search that revealed that Lebanon, which is very rural, has had 80 new Covid cases in just the last two weeks.

These are unprecedented times for us wrestling coaches. And our new head coach was stuck between a rock and a hard place here. He knew pulling the team out of the Lebanon Tournament would create a firestorm. Still, he thought the wrestlers’ safety and their families’ safety was more important, and he’d have to take the heat. A firestorm did erupt. Our team is 50% vaccinated. So, some of our wrestlers, some of our families, and some of our coaches agreed with Coach Corrente. The other half of wrestlers, families, and coaches thoroughly disagreed and thought Coach was making a mistake, and they loudly let him know it.

Once again, I just wish this Covid crap would just go away… Wrestling is hard enough without all this other crap from Covid. We don’t need to constant starting and stopping of our season. We don’t want all the politics and strong emotions whirling around in these uncertain times.

However, carry on, we must, even if we’re limping through it all. Only seven wrestlers showed up for practice on Thursday night, and one of those had to leave early to go to work. There wasn’t much energy in the room that night. And on top of it, we all received messages that a big snowstorm was rolling in early the following day, and school and practice would be canceled for Friday. We just can’t seem to get into a groove this season. We have way too many days off. And our numbers are very low, making it tough to get in good workouts. We have discord over Covid and how many safety precautions to take.

Furthermore, Dakota’s knee has been hurting him all week, and his thumb injury just won’t seem to heal. I’ve been taping his thumb before practice every day for the last month. And I have yet to see the spark and the love of wrestling in Dakota’s eyes this week. He looks like he is physically and psychologically struggling with all that is going on. And to top it all off, I still can’t get him to listen to me when I tell him he has to loudly project his voice as the team captain and have some authority in it when he’s leading his team in warm-ups… There is no get-up-and-go in his voice, just like there hasn’t been any get-up-and-go in the team’s performance lately.

This has been a real lackluster week. And now, instead of wrestling this weekend, it’s time for me to grab my shovel and begin my multi-day task of shoveling my 465-foot dirt driveway out from underneath more than a foot of snow. Good old New England… Maybe, we’ll get a whole week of wrestling in next week.