Kalani Simpson Sidelines

Kalani Simpson

Saturday, March 6, 2004

Grapplers put everything
on the fine line

EVERY state in the union thinks its high school state wrestling tournament is the most intense, most dramatic, most regal, most euphoric sports event anywhere, ever, of all time.

And they are right. All of them.

There is nothing like a wrestling state tournament.

Yesterday I made my annual visit to ours, at the Blaisdell. And as usual, it had everything.

Colors. Cacophony. Nerves. Ritual. Mothers yelling out complex and specific wrestling instructions.

All the emotions were there, and easy to see.

Wrestling coaches hug freely, and often, and with great heart. Partly because they love these boys, are appreciative of how much effort was just expended.

But partly because after losing a wrestling match a wrestler needs to be hugged to be held up. Losing takes the legs out of you. A wrestler who has just lost can hardly stand.

Losing seems to hurt wrestlers more. Not that football or basketball or volleyball players don't cry, occasionally, when championship dreams have been dashed. Not that they don't care.

But wrestlers have their hearts torn out with each loss. You can see it, and feel it with them. They take it personally. Every match is for the championship of the world.

Maybe it hurts so much because wrestlers are already hurting, because they have already given so much. Because they are spartans. They die on their shields.

And after all those early mornings and late nights and sweats and stairs and the hunger, and all the pain -- limbs twisted, courage exhausted, heart exploded -- well, on top of all this, losing is just too much to take.

They sacrifice everything for that moment, and in a flash, that moment is gone.

In state wrestling tournaments there are eight of those moments every minute.

Wrestlers are different. I have never understood them. My own wrestling career lasted 11 seconds, ended not by pin but by the revelation that I would be expected to cut weight. (Cut rice?! No!) Pow! Pau. That was it. I wasn't a wrestler. I wouldn't be one of them. Didn't have it in me. Would never fully understand this cult-like sport.

Few people understand wrestlers, and wrestlers know it. The wrestling community (and the cross country community, and the cheerleading community, and ...) often feels defensive and overlooked.

And it has a point. But so do the rest of us, for not quite getting it.

But then comes that greatest of events, every late February or early March ...

There's someone yelling for everyone, at the state wrestling tournament, all those voices from all corners, coming together, raining down on those mats all at once.

There is heartbreak and joy, exhaustion and exultation all within inches of each other, everywhere and every minute.

It is the most intense, most dramatic, most regal, most euphoric sports event anywhere, ever, of all time.

It is.

It was again, yesterday. It's a gift these wrestlers give us, that we watch them compete, and lose, and win, with everything on the line in every match.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at


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