Walk into the room and you immediately understand the amount of work being done within it. Not by anything that you see initially, but just the feeling of heat and humidity that hits you as you cross the threshold. The windows are fogged and there seems to be a mist floating in the air as thick as a summer in Southern Mississippi. There is condensation on the walls and pools of sweat can be found all around the mat. Upon further examination, you see combatants who have the look of threatening dangerous men, not pimple faced teens who beg for the car on a Saturday night. Eyes are focused, muscles are straining, and there is struggle and anguish with each movement. It’s remarkable to realize that three hours ago these menacing warriors were struggling over the Pythagorean Theorem or explaining why their History assignment wasn’t completed.
Battles continue around the room as wrestlers shout and push each other beyond what most people can even imagine let alone actually experience. The ages range from fourteen to eighteen. Some are still looking for their first real date while one team member has just recently become a father. There are young men of gargantuan strength and fierceness side by side with utter children. But, because they all share the same pain, the same desire, the same goals, they also share the same respect and the same bond. They comprehend something that other athletes will never understand. They understand the grueling aspects of a sport that is misjudged and underappreciated. They recognize the discipline and share in the sacrifice of struggling through that pain in virtually anonymity. They know what it is to be a wrestler.
Wrestling is almost cult-like when compared to other sports in high school, or anywhere else for that matter. Football and basketball are kings while wrestling teams are relegated to practicing on stages or basements or hallways or balconies. On any October Friday night, high school stadium stands are filled with students, alumni, teachers, and local fans not even associated with the school, to watch high school football. They will cheer and sit through frigid temperatures, rain and wind. Yet, in February, the stands are empty on most gyms during a wrestling meet. You would be hard pressed to find anyone in the stands at a wrestling tournament who is not a family member of a wrestler. Wrestling fans are either former wrestlers or related to a wrestler. You almost have to be drafted into or born into the sport.