[This is my column in the Feb. 24 issue of The Commercial Review.]
One of the first ways we learn as infants is by watching our parents.
The same can be true with learning to play sports. We watch others throw a football, swing a bat or shoot a basketball.
Our eyes are the first way we learn new tasks or new skills; by seeing someone else do it.
Many times, the thought “Hey, I can do that!” springs up in our minds, leading us to try something new.
Even as we age, that thought still pops up now and again.
It’s how I recently took up running.
It’s also what took me to the wrestling room at Jay County High School on Wednesday afternoon.
Saturday completed my fourth season covering high school wrestling, and after watching hundreds of matches during that time, the thought “Hey, I can do that!” popped into my head.
Well, I can’t.
All season long, I told junior Gaven Hare I wanted a piece of him once his year was finished.
It just so happened to have lasted as long as possible, as he qualified for the state finals at 220 pounds.
Hare, who hovered between 202 and 210 pounds during the season, is the exact same build as me. We’re both about 5 feet, 8 inches tall, and thanks to a lot of weight loss during 2016, we were similar in weight.
So I wanted to see if I had what it takes to step on to the mat with Hare, who for all intents and purposes is me, just 14 years my junior.
Wednesday I made my way up to the wrestling room, not knowing what I was getting myself into. I laced up a pair of wrestling shoes — it had been 18 years since I last put on a pair, as I wrestled for two weeks in eighth grade — and stepped on the scale.
I was 207.1 pounds. Hare weighed in at 217.7.
Just about even.
Entering the match, I had three goals: after watching JCHS senior Tyler Leonhard nearly perfect the craft, I was going to pick Hare’s ankle right off the start; I wasn’t going to let Hare pin me; and I didn’t want to lose by tech fall (for those unaware, it is losing by 15 points).
Only one of those goals was met.
In front of about two dozen high school kids, I stepped into the circle, shook Hare’s hand and began one of the most embarrassing efforts in my uneventful athletic career.
I missed the ankle pick.
Before I knew it, I was on my back, down a quick 2-0, and fighting for my life to stand up. A two-point and three-point near fall later, I’m down 7-0.
“Just pin me and get it over with,” I thought.
But I continued to fight, continued to give it everything I had to not get pinned. There was a moment Hare was laying on top of my chest with my left arm extended, and I was doing everything in my power to keep my right shoulder from touching the mat.
As I laid there staring at nothing but Hare’s blue shirt for what felt like ages, I was contemplating my next move. I managed to escape, but quickly got taken down again and Hare scored another near fall.
Then the buzzer sounded, and it was music to my ears. Two thoughts ran through my head at that moment.
“I made it through the first period!” and “I’ve got four more minutes of this?”
I trailed 11-1.
Hare deferred to me starting position for the second period and I chose neutral simply try to delay the inevitable for as long as possible. I knew that if I started on bottom I’d never be able to get up, and I didn’t want him to get an easy escape. I knew there was no way I could keep him down.
Like he does to almost all of his opponents, Hare toyed with me in the second period. He faked low shots to get me to drop down, and faked high moves as well. He got my right leg, lifted it toward his chest and swept my left leg for a takedown. Another two-point near fall and I’m trailing 15-1.
We’re near the edge of the circle now, and he looked at the score, let me go to make it 15-2 and said four words.
“Takedown and it’s over.”
We got back to the center circle, he put me in a headlock and rolled me to the ground for the match-winning takedown for a 17-2 tech fall in 2 minutes, 47 seconds.
Those three goals I had? I didn’t pick Hare’s ankle and I lost by tech fall. One out of three isn’t so bad, I suppose.
I’ve watched my fair share of wrestlers make their victories look almost effortless. Hare has been the subject of a number of those this season.
At the same time, I’ve looked on — sometimes through my camera — as wrestlers were in the same position Hare put me in; slightly outweighed, overmatched and downright dominated.
All my life, I’ve seen people do things and thought to myself, “Hey, I can do that!”
On Wednesday, that theory got taken down, over and over and over again.
I’ll still enjoy the sport of wrestling, but from now on I’ll keep myself off the mat. My headgear is officially retired.