Happy Camp

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November 13, 2009 by David Gillaspie



The best sports fans are former youth coaches.  Not to go all Charles Dickens, but the worse sports fans are former youth coaches.  I am a former youth coach.  I like to think I’ve kept a proper perspective.

I’ve sat calmly watching my kid get scrubbed all over the mat on Senior Night.  It was his first match back from injury and he didn’t get hurt again, so losing wasn’t the most important thing going on.

I watched my kid dislocate his elbow on the mat and go into shock before his mother and I wrapped him up and took him to the emergency room.  It happens.  I hated it real bad, but it happens.

We sit calmly and clap at the appropriate times when things don’t go well.  We do the same when things are going better than ever.  When things on the mat are going unbelievably well it’s okay to jump and wave your arms and scream until a croaking noise comes out of your throat.

When your kid is at the state tournament and his next match is against a senior from the current dynasty high school team it’s important to stay calm.  There’s nothing you can do or say to make things better once both wrestlers strap on the ankle colors.

If your kid wins you deserve to cheer like a mad man unless you’re sitting in one particular place.

The one place you need to maintain objectivity is when you’re sitting in the opposing school’s mom section.  My kid is going out against one of the projected finalists.  A few of the local dads and I find a seat in the stands near the mat.  We shove into half a row.

The voices behind us come into focus.

“James went to three camps this summer.  Take down camp, conditioning camp, and Granby camp.  He’s never been in better shape.”

“He looks great.  This is his year.  He’s going all the way.”

“He wants to wrestle the spring season.  He said it doesn’t make sense to stop when he’s on a roll.”

“Here they come.  Who is he wrestling?  Is he any good?  These early rounds are good warm ups for our guys.”

Some of the dads and I have fun joking around.  It’s built into the time frame.  This was one time I wasn’t feeling very funny.  I had on my good luck shirt, my good luck hat and my good luck Greco-Roman state champion ring.  My kid was wrestling a big time guy, a guy who would wrestle D1 varsity a year later.

One of my dads turned to the chatting mothers and pointed at me,

“Your kid’s wrestling his kid.”

Could there be a bigger jinx?  I waved.

The mom’s kicked in the inevitable win talk, how their team and their kids were in a league of their own.  No one could argue.  They were the best year after year.  I wanted to crush my head for sitting in the one place I didn’t want to be, win or lose.  I can’t freak out for a win because it wouldn’t be good sportsmanship.  And I couldn’t stomp and cuss a loss for the same reason. 

The only solution was an out-of-body-experience.  So I did, but not like I would have planned it.

The ref blew his whistle and they were off, checking each other’s defense, strength, balance.  At least it seemed like that’s what the other guy was doing.  He moved like someone schooled in classic wrestling tactics, like he’d watched hours of training tape and did hours of training.  He looked great.

He looked great when he tied up, not so great when he got thrown and pinned by my kid.  I heard the grinding tooth sounds behind me.  I felt the eyes of my local dads.  I saw my kid’s arm raised and watched him walk off the mat. 

I looked down and saw myself in the stands.

I hyperventilated.  The mom’s behind me iced us after one of the my dad’s asked me which wrestling camps my kid went to.  That was the funniest thing I’d heard and I laughed, a hyperventilating laugh I couldn’t stop, the sort of laugh insane asylum movies put into their soundtrack. 

It was a crazy laugh over a crazy match, but it was done with good sportsmanship.  Once things calmed down the whole out-of-body thing went away like it never happened. 

The next time you see a zombie-like parent in the stands break into hysterical laughter, go easy on them.  They’re not really there, but they’ll be back soon.


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