High School Sports: Wrestling and Cross Country Running (1960s)

Running and Writhing 

Wrestling uniforms look really pathetic if one does not have the physical build to flesh them out. The straps keep falling off your shoulders, which is the last thing you need to worry about when someone else is trying to make you into a twisted bagel. It was also the case that our high school wrestling coach, Mr. T, who was really a Science teacher, did little to inspire us as a role model as he was an overweight, underdeveloped blob whose outfit made him look a giant merlot grape. The first time I saw him come out to practice, I thought he looked like a fat man trying on a superhero’s costume for a Halloween party.

My brother had particular distain for his nasty habit of turning his college ring inside out which he used to back handedly belt disruptive students on the nape of their heads. It was his personal version of a homemade brass knuckle.

However, in all fairness to them, the coaches were generally nothing more than ordinary every day teachers, who had amateur sports avocations, and who volunteered their after school time in an attempt to help make us all into a group of well rounded citizens. None of them were really professionals who in retrospect, must have found it to be a dauntingly frustrating task when obligated to put their teams up against those from school systems that paid for top notch coaching.

In any event, in order to make it fair and sporting, amateur wrestling is handicapped by a spread of progressive weight classes, so that each person on the team of six or so represents one weight group ranging from “fly” to “heavy” This means one only has to wrestle someone else who weighs no more than that certain specified weight. The problem lies in the fact that one can be muscular or one can be doughy while still weighing the same. I was doughy. Well, maybe more like stringy. OK then, more like doughy spaghetti strings; more or less a blob with spindly arms and legs.

It is also the case that a person cannot compete unless he is exactly at or under his designated weight. One of the black kids, Stanley, who had been on the team a year ahead of me told me I would never have to worry about making my weight because just the thought of having to go the mats on game day would give me “the nervous shits.” This would guarantee a drop of three pounds or so between lunch time and the weigh in. He was right.

In an effort to compensate for my lack of musculature, I saw the “Don’t Be a Ninety Pound Weakling” advertisement in which a cartoon rendition shows a skinny little guy getting pummeled at the beach by a gym fitness freak while his girlfriend fairly swoons over the interloping heavily muscled goon. The nerd goes on the program, then comes back later to beat up the goon and win back the girl.

So I sent away for the Charles Atlas barbell and dumbbell weights. The weights arrived along with Mr. America’s free booklet that conveyed information on how to bulk up.

Charles recommended putting raw eggs into milkshakes, a habit that my mother quickly put to an end because of the potential for Salmonella poisoning, resulting in an argument between her and my father. He said there was nothing wrong with it because he was raised on raw eggs:

  • Nothing bad ever happened to me.

My mother replied:

  • Obviously.

She then followed that comment with an unqualified:

  • And what a shame, too.

However I had neither the time nor the guidance to properly train because I had no mentor. I also had to study to keep up my grades, and then on non-wrestling days had to practice with the cross-country team.

This of course was a contradiction in itself since in order to be a good long distance runner one had to be lean, lithe and hyper-extended like a toe-pointed ballet dancer as opposed to being bulky, brawny, and chronically stoop flexed into a Cro-Magnon crouch, which was the posture of any good Sumo. The real reason I made both teams was simply because the school did not have enough students who could fulfill the unique lighter weight requirement for that particular wrestling class, or who were stupid enough or motivated enough to run all over the countryside in the middle of winter. Ergo I made Varsity on these teams purely by default but certainly not based on innate or any other special talent.

This meant that on non-wrestling days I was out sucking wind on five mile runs with our English teacher Mr. Mc C., and his cross country team, while on the alternate days I was rolling around in a sweaty maroon superman suit getting mat burns while just trying to keep my nose out of my opponents arm pit or his crotch.

Coach C. said the running was good for endurance on the mats, but I honestly thought that the pain of all of it was good for absolutely nothing. No amount of practice could translate my lack of intrinsic talent into anything other than what the actual diagnosis was: Athletic talent: Missing at birth.

My wrestling career finally culminated at the All County Competitions where I was paired in the first round against the top seeded kid from one of the AAA schools. That seeding itself tells you how good I wasn’t because first round seeding always pits the projected best against the known worst.

This kid looked like his body had been sculpted by Michelangelo, and he had the confident poise that went with his top seeding.

Coach C had come along with the team and on the bus ride over gave me the expectedly ever predictable “pep talk” about how any given person on any given day can overcome overwhelming obstacles, then coast along to odds defying glorious victory.

But shortly after the whistle blew to start the match, I never knew what hit me. I was on my back, with my extremities twisted into places I never thought possible for them to go and was out for the count in a matter of seconds. I probably looked like a giant three-ringed soft pretzel, because I certainly felt like one.

The only good thing about it was that in not even having had enough time to break a sweat, after the match I did not have to bother taking a shower or launder my uniform. The experience was more like a very predictable odds fulfilling defeat than an odds defying victory, which left the actual very short time duration of the debacle as the only open aspect of the betting line.

In general I was mediocre at both sports, but did persevere for three years on each team and eventually earned my high school letter. This was subsequently sown onto the front of a thick white inflexibly woven stiff fleece sweater with oversized brown mid-line pseudo-alligator buttons, vis-à-vis the ever tasteful fashion icon, Mister Rogers.

Big deal. The girls still liked my class mate Louie better because whether or not he just had only half a brain, Louie had plenty of brawn and movie star looks. The Letter Sweater did nothing to really impart a charismatic aura of me being the GQ student athlete either, as the ensemble was mutedly offset by my thick brown coke-bottle-bottom eye glasses and railroad track dental braces. The only tangible benefit was the fact that I now sported a slightly improved resume for my looming College applications.

But the resume was qualitative and although I did look great on paper, being able to get dates however, required more in the way of the overall but equally important superficial physical appearance to fall primarily into the domain of the quantitative: Handsome; and then some. Just like Louie.

Running an writhing

Photo source: http://www.lifeisajoke.com/pictures357_html.htm

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