Wednesday, February 16, 2011

One For The Road

The team portion of the scholastic wrestling season concluded here in the State of Concrete Gardens this past Sunday. And if you think that a certain Mad Hungarian is not grinning from ear-to-ear behind the Great Wall from the knowledge that one of his favorite wrestlers is the proud father of a member of the first team from Delbarton to capture a State title, then you would do well to acquaint yourself with Doc Rud before too much more time passes. Outstanding effort by Matt the Younger and his Green Wave mates and congratulations to them. Their hard work earned them an opportunity, which they seized with aplomb.

If hard work was a guarantee of success in the brutal business that kids call high school wrestling, then the road to Atlantic City would not just be a difficult one to travel. Instead it would be one whose destination was impossible to reach. Hard work is of course not a guarantee of success. Instead it is a prerequisite. It is a fundamental ingredient of the recipe for success. Without it, nothing can be achieved. With it? You buy a ticket to the dance. Nothing more. Nothing less.

This Friday night those of us who comprise the traveling road show that supports the young men who wear the colors of the Middlesex Blue Jays will make the trip to South Plainfield for the District 12 tournament. This Friday night, in thirty-two gymnasiums of varying dimensions found in schools of varying sizes all across this state, wrestlers in fourteen weight classes shall do what the kids from Middlesex shall do in South Plainfield. For the overwhelming majority of them, this weekend will represent not the first leg of the journey, but its only leg. And for those who are seniors in high school, its final one as well. Only the kids who place in the top three positions in their weight class this weekend continue onward to Atlantic City.

Next week, those who advanced out of the thirty-two Districts compete in one of eight Region tournaments. Every February since Joe was a junior at Middlesex High School, which was 2006, Margaret and I have spent Region Week at the Region 3 meet at Union High School. We hope to make one last visit there this year to root for Frank. Frank, the younger of my brother-in-law's two sons, is a senior this year at Middlesex. I doubt highly that I shall ever have reason to set foot in the gymnasium at Union High School again beyond this year. But I sure hope like hell that I have a chance to spend one final February Saturday there rooting Frank onward to Atlantic City.

I was an abysmal high school wrestler. I aspired to be dreadful - or perhaps comical - but never even developed enough skill to achieve that level. The only pressure I ever felt while on the mat was that associated with my ribs being squeezed so hard that I feared the top of my head might blow open in an effort to relieve the build up. The only way I was going to the State tournament then is the same route available to me now: purchasing a ticket. I cannot even attempt to approximate how it must feel to be one of the kids - and while occasionally a fan or twelve in the stands seems to forget that it bears remembering that is all they are - who does not hope to get there but who has instead set that destination as a goal. It is for him something he expects to achieve and has worked hard to achieve. The pressure - a great deal of it is self-imposed - is immense.

It is basic arithmetic after all. There are too many earnest, hard-working and talented kids at each of the fourteen contested weight classes and there are too few spots on the podium. It should be as easy to explain as it is to rationalize; right? And it is. It is right up until the moment in time that the earnest, hard-working and talented kid whose dream has died at least one step short of the destination he had strove for is your kid. Or your friend's kid. Or your brother-in-law's. It is at that moment that you realize just how goddamn little arithmetic has to do with it.

I know not where this season will end for Frank or how it will end. I am a bit biased in this regard - admittedly - but I think he is a hell of a wrestler. More than that, I think he is one hell of a young man. It seems to me that life has quite a bit in store for him. He works hard. He has a good head on his shoulders. His family support system is nothing short of extraordinary. Will all of those things lead him to a spot on the podium on March's first Sunday? I do not pretend to know. No one does. No one can. It is a story that has not yet been written. It is his story. But it is not yet history. Soon enough but hopefully not too soon it shall be....

....who could ask for anything more?


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