Monday, February 18, 2013

Utah State Wrestling Championships and the Future of Wrestling

A year ago I watched several of Utah's best high school wrestlers leave it all on the mat in pursuit of a state title.  My nephew, Brady Farnsworth, came away with the 1A Utah State Wrestling title in 106 pound weight class.  It was an impressive end to his freshman wrestling season and put the pressure on for next year.

This past weekend I returned to watch Brady and others battle it out on the mats once again.  And once again I found myself sitting with the Altamont High Schools fans.  A great group of people, but it still felt a little strange sitting with them after wrestling for Duchesne High School back in the day.  I had one of the best seats in the house in the second row back from the mat for all 1A matches.  The first match resulted in one of two wins for Duchesne High School.

Wrestling in the 113 pound weight class this season, Brady's match was up second.  Brady's agressive style paid off right away with a quick take down but his opponent quickly escaped for one point.  Offering no reprieve to his opponent Brady worked another take down and took his opponent onto his back.  With both of his arms trapped beneath him his opponent put up a good fight with a solid bridge but the pressure, the pain and the time were too much.  Brady won with a pin with about thirty seconds to spare in the first round.

With seven wrestlers in the finals the drama and excitement for Altamont didn't end there.  The Foy brothers, whose dad (Mike) coaches for Altamont and wrestled for Duchesne, each took their turn.  Rylee Foy, as sophomore, took his second state title after a hard fought match.  Kyle Foy entered the ranks of top high school wrestlers as he pinned his opponent in 36 seconds to win his fourth state title.  It was great to see the emotion on Coach Foy's face as Kyle came onto the mat and walked off with that fourth state title.

Watching Kyle Foy took me back twenty years to 1993, my senior year.  It was the only year I made it to the state tournament, but it was a historic year for high school wrestling.  Prior to that year only one other wrestler, Allen Lake of Delta, had won four state wrestling titles in Utah.  That was in 1981.  That year my good friend Brandon Moat became the second wrestler in the history of Utah high school wrestling to win four state titles.  Throughout his high school career Brandon lost only one wrestling match.  I don't remember the details of the match, but I remember what Brandon did after he won the match.  After shaking his opponents hand and having his arm raised by the referee, he ran over and hugged his dad and coach.  No grandstanding and no unsportsmanlike celebration.  A simple symbol of gratitude to another who had sacrificed so much to make his success possible.  That same year Trent Bell of Piute won his fourth state title as well.

Four Time Utah State Wrestling Champions
(Trent Bell is listed as number two on this list, but Brandon won his state title first because he wrestled at a lower weight class.)

This year's state tournament captured the power of wrestling as a sport.  It's always impressive to watch wrestlers like Brady and Kyle decimate their opponents in seconds.  Matches that last into the third round with a close score provide much more insight, I feel, into the power of wrestling.  To wrestle hard through three rounds for six minutes against an evenly matched opponent is grueling and painful.  Training and conditioning play a major role in the final result.  Who worked hard enough during practice to develop the strength of character and will to continue wrestling hard when your body is screaming at you to stop?  If you put many of these wrestlers on a scale that measured skill and heart, many of them would be right next to one another at the far end of the spectrum.

For example, we watched Cassidy Smith, 220 pound weight class, of Altamont wrestle his opponent from Wayne High School.  It was scoreless through the first two rounds.  Cassidy chose the bottom position for the third round and managed to get one escape point thirty seconds into the round.  Both wrestlers spent the next 90 seconds circling each other, one hoping for the clock to run out and the other trying to find an opening.  As the clock ran out and the whistle blew Cassidy was up by one point when the referee called Cassidy for stalling and gave the other wrestler one point.  In an instant Cassidy went from thinking he held a state title to facing sudden death overtime.  (One lesson that should be learned is that you shouldn't look at the clock repeatedly while trying to keep the other wrestler from scoring.)  With both wrestlers exhausted they faced sudden death.  Who wanted it more?  Would someone entertain the thought that it would be easier just to let the other wrestler shoot or execute a throw?  Who would have the strength to initiate the attack rather than hoping the other would make a mistake?  Through the pain Cassidy attacked and scored the two take down points that made him a repeat state champion.

Wrestling highlights the power of an individual sport.  First, it's combative sport where skill and strength are matched directly between two opponents.  Scoring and winning are based around the ability to force you're opponent to submit, willingly or unwillingly to your will.  There is no physical separation between the opponents.  Second, all of your effort, or lack of it, is visible for all opponents to observe.  A wrestler can't blame his failure on a teammate who failed to do their part.  A different teammate can't claim credit for any victory.  As they step out onto the mat each wrestler brings the sum total of their training, conditioning, genetics, and heart.  Sure, along the way others helped to make him a skilled and strong wrestler, but it was up to the individual wrestler to take advantage of those opportunities.

A sport such as wrestling teaches some of the most important values and character traits for success in life.

  • The importance of individual responsibility.
  • The value of hard work, practice, training and conditioning.  
  • The value of being willing to take risks and the unknown...success or failure; and to do it again and again.
  • The ability to face defeat with grace, accept your mistakes and the strength to make necessary corrections.
  • The ability to take victory with humility knowing that it might prove fleeting.
  • The value of working with others to help to improve them and yourself.
  • The ability to define success as a process of moving forward and continual improvement.
This is not an all-inclusive list of values and character that wrestling teaches the willing participant.  

Olympic Games and the IOC Executive Board Recommendation
The recent decision by the IOC Executive Board to recommend that wrestling be removed as a core sport of the 2020 Olympic games is disappointing and disconcerting.  Wrestling is one of the original Olympic sports.  Wrestling, like the other original track and field events, are based in practical application, the martial arts.  These events were honored and revered because it was an opportunity for the protectors of the republic to showcase their abilities to defeat enemies and defend their nation.  It's a direct and peaceful form of competition that allows two opponents to determine a winner on a mat.  I encourage all supporters of wrestling to engage in this debate.  Speak out regarding the value and importance of wrestling on the international stage.  USA Wrestling released the following statement (see link below) and talking points regarding the recommendation.  I encourage all of you to read it.  We have time to prevent the IOC from making a mistake regarding the sport of wrestling, but we must engage and define and describe the sport.

USA Wrestling Statement and Talking Points

Collegiate Wrestling in Utah
On a final note, I would like to comment on the state of wrestling as a sport in Utah.  Up through the high school level, wrestling is a very successful sport in Utah.  The high schools and clubs produce wrestlers of the highest caliber every year.  Since 1993 Utah has had an additional 19 high school wrestlers win four state titles.  Unlike football or basketball players, however, Utah's high school wrestlers have very limited opportunities to seek collegiate scholarships in state or to wrestle in a meaningful way beyond high school.  Personally, I think we have failed our wrestlers by allowing our in state universities to abandon their wrestling programs.  Today any serious wrestler leaving high school must look outside of Utah for a solid collegiate wrestling program.  I think it also time for us to engage here in Utah to push our universities to bring wrestling back into athletic programs.  Let's find and advocate for a solution that works.  Let's give wrestlers like Kyle Foy the opportunity to represent their home state.

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