Michael Bray

Author of A Time To Kill

Ode to Wrestling in Wilmington

Posted on 31 March, 2017

(Amended on 30 May 2017)

4 March, 2011

Wrestling season comes to a close. My last high school wrestler has finished his course.  Both my sons have gotten from the sport what I had hoped they would get.  The sport is a wonderful means of character development.

Mack Remington, writing for ezinearticles.com, reports in an article on the Navy Seals that “Wrestlers are viewed by many as the toughest athletes in the world and it is not surprising to members of the wrestling community that their peers enjoy great success during Navy SEAL training and while serving in operational SEAL units.”

My oldest son has endured the toughest training courses the Army offers. There is no dispute about the benefits of the sport for those who pursue such physically and psychologically demanding exploits.  The next one, ten years younger, expects to continue to wrestle in college.

You play basketball. You play baseball.  You play football.  You don’t play wrestling.  You wrestle.  The same could be said of other physically demanding sports.  You swim.  You run track.  You work; you don’t play. In these ancient competitions, the athlete presses himself to surpass his own limits as well as those of others.  If he leaves his competitors behind, he races against himself, ever onward, to beat the clock.

And yet, like boxing or the more popular team sports, in wrestling there are the variables in the unpredictable movements of an opponent. The singular opponent brings his own factors into the contest.  The differences in strength, speed, style, and stamina bear reciprocally upon the pair of combatants and influence their strategies for victory.  The grueling and lengthy time of preparation ends with a very short and intense contest.  Just six minutes in high school.

Chuck Brown, an ehow.com columnist and former coach, teacher, and business owner writes:

Wrestling, real wrestling, not the fake, carnival silliness called ‘pafeshnal rasslin,’ has been around since earliest recorded Olympic history. It is, at its core, one-on-one, close-quarter human chess. This sport requires more maximum, sustained effort and energy expenditure than any other. While the actual match total time may not seem all that long to those who have never wrestled, three 2-minute rounds, any wrestler will tell you those minutes are thoroughly exhausting, win or lose.

The author of The Turning Point, a book about the 1953 college wrestling season, which culminated in the NCAA tournament at Penn State College (now University), begins the preface with this statement: “Wrestling is not, as some contend, like life. Wrestling is life—reduced to its essence.”  An overstatement, indeed, but the author gives the sport its proper place as the generator of spiritual reformation by the refining work that it performs in the soul of the participants.

Two of the long-recognized “four cardinal virtues” – prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance – are especially cultivated in the wrestler. He learns fortitude and temperance in driving his body onward with rigorous physical workouts and then denies himself the pleasure of eating in order to maximize his competitive edge.  But more emphatically, he regularly develops a particular one of the “seven heavenly virtues” – humility.  When he loses, he gets the blame.  And it is quite personal.  He loses alone.  There is no one else to share his defeat and whatever shame attaches to it.  He must take responsibility for the loss.  But in victory, if he is really understanding the way things work, he must give credit to his coaches and to the God who gave him the skills to succeed.  Character is built.  His is grateful, not proud, in victory.  Character is built in the wrestler.

In addition to developing fortitude, temperance, and humility, there is a unique fellowship among wrestlers. They spend time socially together, especially during tournaments.  They have the opportunity to observe one another in each one’s personal contest.  In these contests, they simulate a most ancient and ubiquitous feature of human existence – war.  They look upon one another as fellow warriors, each taking his turn to undergo another soul-wrenching battle.

Alex Nedved, of Clinton Massie, is a participant in the Ohio State High School Wrestling Tournament in Columbus this weekend.  In the Wilmington News Journal (March 3), he is reported to have said, “I am forever in debt to this sport for I would not be the person I am today without it. It has taught me not only how to win, but more importantly the essence of defeat and how to turn that negative energy into something prosperous.”*

How appropriate that many of our national political leaders and soldiers have also been wrestlers: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln Calvin Coolidge, Zach Taylor, John Tyler, Ted Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and William Taft are among U.S. Presidents.  General Norman Schwarzkopf, John McCain, Dennis Hastert, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield are four more recent notables.

Long may the sport continue in our land, and may our community do all it can to encourage the participation of its young men for their personal good and for that of the community and nation.

*I note by way of amendment here on 30 May, 2017, that in another News Journal article in Wilmington (3 March, 2017) a WHS football player who also wrestles was reported as saying what I have heard and observed on manifold occasions, viz., that wrestling is more grueling that football, “way more physical , it wears you out.  One wrestling match is like one football game.”

Well and simply put.


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