October 19, 2010 by David Gillaspie
(When you talk about sports, start with wrestling and go from there.)
Playing sports takes a toll on everyone. Sometimes it shows up right away, sometimes years down the line. From sprains, strains and amputations, to twists, turns and dislocations, sport extracts its due.
So why play?
You know how it’s going to turn out. Do you need a dead arm? A limp? A twitch in your neck? Do you need a life long skin disease, a set of crushed ears harder than a clam shell? Do you need your nose bent flat against your face?
Non-athletes look at the results of sport and see the surface damage and turn away.
The grizzled old-timer coughs out words that sound like “You dance the dance, you pay the band.”
A coach might explain the difference between being hurt and being injured, the same thing you heard the last time you got hurt.
Ask a D-III football player on a team without the habit of winning; ask Eddie The Eagle, the goofiest ski jumper in history; ask the Jamaican bobsled team.
Eddie crashed and burned off the ski jump so often that the officials made new rules for that high flier.
The Jamaicans got a movie made about them, Cool Runnings.
Is winning the gold the only goal? Or is it something more?
If the answer is ‘something more’, then a local family is a great example.
Big brother is a chemical engineer who played football through high school and college at a school known for something besides football. It wasn’t USC.
Middle brother went to USC, but not to play football. It’s one thing to win an academic scholarship, it’s another to max it out to the point of being named a Renaissance Scholar on the way to medical school.
Little brother is the end of the line, finishing his last year at Puget Sound University on the D line.
Why does he play? What’s he trying to prove? He’s seen both older brothers go through college playing sports of some sort, and he keeps going. Why do it?
I’ll go out on a limb here and say it’s the challenge.
The middle brother was a football player and a wrestler, like little bro. He wasn’t happy with the way his senior year turned out and wanted more. I got to take him to a few tournaments and clinics and watch him tear into people with the sort of energy they warn referees to control.
Little brother was a football player and a wrestler. I got to train him up on throwing dummies so he could face who I think is one of the best big men ever in high school wrestling. Tyrell Fortune was a cobra on the mat, ready to strike in the blink of an eye. Little brother lined him up without blinking and dove in.
After that, D-III college football might be a relief. But it’s more.
My oldest son played on the quarter-finals team with the little brother. They were offensive lineman on a running team. The were wrestling partners. We all went to one of the last games of the year to watch little brother, the last player still active from high school.
He played, the team lost, and we all got together before he hit the bus. That’s when it hit me.
Moms and dads and grandmas and friends all showed up. We stood around talking with stacks of pizza boxes near by. It wasn’t about sports, it was about the human need for community, and little brother was the hub.
I’ll take a guess and say he plays football so others can join together for a few hours, the players, the fans, and the family. It’s not a stretch to say the feeling in our small crowd was joy. Win or lose, we stood for our player. I told him he was the last guy from the last good high school team in our home town.
He said I need to get over it. And I will, but not too soon.
The next time you watch an NFL game, or big time college game, remember where those guys started. The next time you hear about a huge contract signing full of enough money to support an entire school district, remember the beginning. No one is born with a helmet on.
Athletes pick up a game and learn the same way you do. Some learn faster than others, some run faster than others, some are stronger than others, but the game is the same. It’s there to play.
If you don’t have a game to play, find a hoop, tie on some running shoes, go to the gym. If you can get yourself around, make something of it. Set a personal record, a PR. Build a record of attendance in the gym. Let your elders know the fountain of youth still runs through them if they make time and take down the old barriers.
My high school football team won four games in three years. The year after I graduated, they won a district title. I missed the fun of winning, but not the fun of playing. When you lose all the time, you start looking for little victories in the loss.
The big victories came during wrestling season.
Use it or lose it goes mental when you get beat every game. You find the small things to do right, to make a difference, and build up from there. Coach Howard Johnson showed the way in North Bend football, and his teams followed him to the top.
Find the little things that make life better for you and share them. Find the things a little guy does well to let them know you care. Sports opens that door, and you are invited to walk through at any age. You might forget it, but you’ll never lose it.
Consider this your reminder. If you talk about sports, start with wrestling.