Destiny’s Course — Bring It: Chapter 17
Monday’s practice was difficult, not so much for the physical aspects but the emotional. Every wrestler was there at the beginning but only those of us who were continuing to the district tournament were dressed in our practice uniforms.
Mr. Hackman and Mr. Irwin expressed a few words of gratitude and pride in our accomplishments as a team and as individuals. Afterward, the reserve team members along with the four varsity wrestlers who were not advancing to the district tournament said their goodbyes to everyone else.
Their wishes of luck felt odd. It wasn’t like we didn’t attend the same school or wouldn’t see them again in our classes or walking the hallways. After all, there were over two months left before summer. Some of us were seniors, though. And for us this was it. Win or go home. I understood. All teams become closer, like siblings, but over the past few months, we’d become brothers in a way the team never had before. We would all feel the diminishing of our strength and unity from the absences.
It had been a long and crazy journey since our first practice together last fall. There were a lot of memories, both happy and sad. The four varsity wrestlers carried their belongings out to their cars to take them home for the season. Some would be back next November for another season. They had all promised to attend the district tournaments in Dayton to cheer us on as spectators, though.
When practice began in earnest, we ran our standard twenty conditioning laps. It had been since Thursday that I’d run for any real distance. I felt it, knowing Coach Friske had been right. I probably did need a Sunday workout. Still, after the experience of spending the whole day with Pam, I could endure the pain, or anything else. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Focused on the tasks ahead, I worked hard, staying a couple of hours beyond the others to get in some wrestling time against Coach Friske. Coach Ellis served as the referee. Afterward, I challenged both to a run on the track. I spotted them one lap, but still came out the victor, a lap and a half ahead over the five miles.
The three of us, each winded, walked around the cinder surface with arms raised and hands laced atop our heads, welcoming the chilly mid-March air back into our gasping lungs. When he regained most of his wind, Coach Ellis patted me on the head. “Someday…you’ll understand…a kid beatin’…your ass…like that.”
“If I can run as fast…as you can when I’m…pushing forty-five…I’ll be happy.”
Coach Friske chuckled. “Me too.”
We all laughed as we headed back to the fieldhouse to shower and get dressed.
“Gentlemen, we are ready,” Coach Ellis said as he held the door open for Coach Friske and me.
“After that run, I think I’m all set,” I said.
“Then we hit these showers for the last time this season,” Coach Ellis said.
“Last time ever for me.” A sobering truth, though I spun it as positive as I could. There would be no more practices. Wednesday began the final journey for the season’s ultimate success or unfortunate disappointment with little between the emotional extremes.
For each of the seven wrestlers who’d begin the journey at the District 7 Tournament, the goal was not just to be in Columbus for the State Championship on Saturday, but to be the last one standing, undefeated atop the platform with the trophy in hand.
“There’s no feeling in the world like that. And so far, no athlete from Countryside has ever been the State Champion of anything,” Coach Friske said.
“We’ll fix that this year,” I said exuding optimism.
After showering and dressing, the coaches locked up after me and together we walked to our cars. It was late. I’d already warned Pam, figuring I’d be the last wrestler to leave the practice. She wasn’t expecting me to be home before ten.
“Get a good night’s sleep tonight and tomorrow,” Coach Ellis said.
“No more than five minutes on the phone with your lady,” Coach Friske decreed.
“He’ll see her Wednesday, anyway.”
“So, what’s she going to do when you’re wrestling her guy?” Coach Ellis asked.
“We talked about that possibility. I told her she has to do what she has to do for her team.”
“You really have no problem with that?” Coach Friske asked.
“No, but she had a problem with it. If I wrestle Shane, she’s sitting out for the duration of the match.”
“Maybe that won’t happen,” Coach Ellis said.
“The way things go in my life, it seems inevitable.”
* * *
On Wednesday, the seven wrestlers and eight cheerleaders, the four we’d had at our home meets from the outset as well as the four more recently added, were released from class at noon. It struck me as sort of silly that the cheerleaders outnumbered the wrestlers now, but no one complained.
We boarded the bus, each wrestler occupying his usual place. Whether we were creatures of habit or participating in a ritual as if it gave us luck, we did not deviate from routine. We reserved vacant seats for the four who had not advanced with us, except in their thoughts of support.
At Hara’s Silver Arena, where in the past Bart and I attended a few Rock concerts, we parked the bus and as a group, we exited. Always before, it felt strange to be entering the place for any other purpose than watching a concert, having been to the district tournament once before, but as an equipment manager. Still, the layout for wrestling purposes was much the same as any other tournament venue. There would be three mats with matches going simultaneously. So, it was likely for at least two of our wrestlers to be in matches at the same time. If that happened, both coaches would be occupied.
All of us passed weigh-in. I tipped the scale at two-hundred-nineteen and one-half pounds, the heaviest I’d been all season. I still added bulk, though I hadn’t changed my diet. If anything, I was eating less. Strange, but maybe it was how my body adapted to the more subtle changes of accepting my true nature.
When the team finished dressing, we huddled just outside of the locker room. The coach said a few words to us about our mission and supporting each other. Then, we hit the main floor to do our stretched and warm-up exercises.
As she walked by, Pam waved. I blew her a kiss. She reciprocated, adding a wink. Immediately, Kevin gave me static about dating a foreigner.
“You’re just jealous,” I countered.
“Well, yeah, but still, Brent!”
As I stood between Coaches Friske and Ellis, we observed Mike Smith shaking Mark Heath’s hand, and then exchanging pats on the back. “Well, that’s kind of apocalyptic,” Coach Ellis commented.
“How’s that?” I asked.
“You know — lions and lambs, cats and dogs, enemies making peace? That sort of thing.”
“Yeah, what’s with the two of them all of a sudden?” Coach Friske asked.
“Guess we’ll see.”
“It doesn’t concern us, right now. How do you feel?” Coach Ellis asked.
“Confident, ready to win another team title.”
“This place doesn’t bother you?” Coach Friske asked.
“The last time I was here, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer were performing over there,” I pointed to the far end of the arena. “Bart and I were around where mat two is. The band had massive arrays of PA towers in each of the corners for a quadraphonic effect.”
“Really? I guess I’m not a huge fan of ELP,” the coach said.
“It was a phenomenal show, anyway.”
There were some surreal aspects of being inside the arena. The echoes and the overall ambiance might prove to distract especially with the three mats and the potential confusion of hearing errant referee whistles from another match. However, the field would narrow quickly despite the overall circus environment. Again, the mental focus would be the key.
Each match might be the last of my high school wrestling career with the odds of losing increased with each advancement in the round. Although I expected to be wrestling in Cincinnati on Thursday, I didn’t want to jinx it. Luck and timing mattered as much as skill and preparation.
My first match wasn’t until three in the afternoon. As always, I was the last of the seven Countryside wrestlers to take my turn on a mat. After earning a pin in twelve seconds, I completed the first-round perfect streak, something I didn’t realize until I returned to my seat with the rest of the team. Not that I hadn’t paid attention, just it was hard to keep track of who was wrestling on which mat, so I gave up trying. Still, when I heard that all seven of us pinned our opponents, I was happy. Were we going to take every match again? Did I even dare think it possible?
The matches progressed in a straightforward, precise way, according to a pre-determined schedule. When one match ended early due to a pin, the next match in the queue scheduled for that mat was quickly advanced. In that way, no mat was vacant for long. However, that also made it difficult to follow because multiple weight classes were wrestling simultaneously, often enough there were two wrestlers from the same school.
Ralph returned from winning his second match by pin. He sat in the vacant chair beside me. “Eleven seconds.”
“I suppose you’ll shoot for ten now?”
“It’s getting tougher as we go.”
“Yep. Five seconds, though.” He shook his head as he referred to the new league record that I’d set the previous week.
“You have all next year to whittle it down to four.”
“I don’t know if that can be done. It has to be luck.”
“Yeah, your opponent needs to fall down or something.”
“You mean like you did…except you ended up winning that one by a pin, too.”
I shrugged. “Sometimes the stars favor me.”
“That happens a lot for you.”
“You’re probably right.”
“Even a ‘fish’ takes longer than four seconds to pin.”
“If it’s possible, you’ll do it.” I patted his back.