I finally went to the NCAA tournament and am quite disappointed in myself for waiting this long to attend. I was as giddy as a 5 year old the week leading up to the trip to St. Louis. My wife was getting a bit annoyed to say the least. I kept making reference to this tournament being the Super Bowl of wrestling and the best of the best will be competing. It was difficult to get her to realize how privileged I felt to be able to spend 3 days watching these guys compete.
The other portion of it that made such an impact was the excitement of having a horse in the race. SBL has never had an alumni wrestler compete at the NCAA Division I national tournament before. This was the first time we were going to have the chance to watch one of our own on the greatest stage of collegiate wrestling. I know there are programs out there that probably have multiple division I guys that have come out of their programs so making such a big deal out of it may seem petty. There is just something about that first time that makes it special!
Colton didn’t do as well as we had hoped as he fell short in the All-American round on Friday night. We were still very proud of him and accepted the moral victory of a 3-2 tournament as a great accomplishment. These kinds of moral victories aren’t the bundle of joy to accept as one would think. For some reason, we took on a great deal of emotion for him falling short. We probably had feelings that he never had because we very well may have hurt more than he did. I know there was a bit of him that struggled on Saturday night as he was not on that stand, but may never know how much it really bothered him since 21 year old young don’t necessarily share their emotions like my 7 year old does.
My wife, who is generally pretty tough emotionally, made a comment when we got back to the motel about how much this sport can stink because of how it can make you feel. I used some of her material at our banquet this year as she made reference that she loves the sport because the emotions created can bring wrestlers to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. She said the challenge lies in how we bring ourselves out of those lows to give it another shot once again. This time though, even she struggled a little bit understanding how getting kicked in the gut again with Colton’s last round loss could make anyone want to start the process up again for the next season.
When the dust all settled, we were able to have a great conversation about the highly intense emotions associated with this sport that no other sport can offer. The proof is in the pudding in that the reactions from an 8 year old winning an AAU title to the reaction of a division I national champion are not all that different. Each person in their own way understands the great accomplishment they just achieved.
Accomplishments of those who will never win a title of some sort count just as much but are simply not noticed as much. We have all watched gyms erupt over great things a lesser talented wrestler has overcome. The unique connection point for both of these is that there is an emotional connection to doing something great.
There are also a tremendous number of people surrounding each athlete that have this emotional stake in the game. I always tell people that the kid feels worse after the big loss and that the kid will probably recover quicker than those in the stands or the guys in the corner. Parents, grandparents, girlfriends and the like all get hit with the poison dart of disappointment when it happens. I read a comment once that made a reference to why wrestling parents are always called “crazy.” I don’t think they are crazy, I just think they are emotionally connected to someone they love. True, some reactions are a bit over the top, but the underlying theme is they want the best for their son.
The closing chapter for the connection we have with our wrestlers, is being able to sit back and watch them grow up into adulthood. Our basketball coach made a very kind comment to me about how we all had a small footprint in the success of the boys basketball team through the work we do in the weight room. The footprint means even more to me when these boys turn in to be great human beings. Watching Jordan Burroughs with his youngest daughter is proof that even the toughest of tough guys have a big heart and that the sport of wrestling had some small part in making him that way. The medals may not always come the way we want, but the imprint on their lives is greater than we will ever know.