Thursday, January 7, 2010

Rocking The Cradle

Last night I had the chance to take a look backwards at a long-ago part of my life through the actions of others. On the way home from the office I swung past the high school to watch Margaret's nephew Frank and his teammates wrestle. I am a bit biased I suppose in my assessment of such things but I think Frank is a considerable talent. High school wrestling is ferociously tough and it is impossible to predict in early January how any individual wrestler's season will turn out. That being said, Frank appears primed to have a wonderful year.

It was not Frank's performance that made me hearken back to yesteryear. It was the performance of a number of his younger teammates - a number of whom are underclassmen and/or first-year starters - that made me think of my own wholly unsuccessful high school wrestling career. Last season's Middlesex squad was chock full of veterans and had a number of kids who compiled excellent records. This year's lineup is game but green. There is but one way to get experience in wrestling - and it involves strapping on the headgear and getting out on the mat. Often as one is learning the ropes, the "education" results in the absorption of inordinate quantities of physical pain and discomfort.

As a high school freshman I wrestled quite terribly for my high school's wrestling team. It is not an exaggeration to say I learned more about acoustic tile and HVAC duct work that single year on the mat than I did in the several years that I worked for my brother Kelly's construction company. It is also not an exaggeration to say that had I not befriended two of the guys against whom I wrestled, Al Schnur of Rutgers Prep and Frank Riggio of Newark Academy, I might have needed a walker just to make it through the first day of 10th grade. Al proved to be quite a pal. He went so far as to transfer from Rutgers Prep to Wardlaw, which ensured that I was permitted to transition from "current" wrestler to "former" wrestler without incurring Doc Rud's wrath - or even having to bring a dozen Dunkin' Donuts to class.

I could not help but think of my own grappling misadventures as I watched one of Frank's lighter teammates after another succumb to the persuasive authority of the cradle as one of their opponents after another applied it with such alacrity that I left the gym thinking that the first week of wrestling practice annually at JFK (Iselin) must be devoted to learning and perfecting that particular move. And as I watched the pins piling up on JFK's side of the scoreboard, I smiled. Not at the results on the mat but at the sounds of the parental voices rising out of the bleachers screaming out helpful advice to the young man on the mat battling as hard as he could to win or - more pointedly - to survive. There is no interscholastic sport in which the disparity between how easy it appears from the bleachers and how hard it is in the arena is as great as it is in wrestling. Yet it does not deter moms and dads from yelling out encouragement, suggesting moves and screaming loudly.

Middlesex lost. Frank won by pin. And I left the gym none the worse for wear physically, which is not how most of my wrestling adventures used to end a generation ago.

I do not know if somewhere last night either Frank Riggio or Al Schnur was smiling. But I most certainly was. And that must count for something.


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