A number of decades ago in the scholastic ranks of athletics, there was a remarkable wrestler we will rightfully refer to as "The Champ."
The champ wrestled for one of the best mat teams in the state. His coach was considered a legend in the sport. However, it was the champ who shined.
This story takes place during the champ's senior year. Near the conclusion of the season, the champ (a three-time state titlist) was well on his way to becoming the first wrestler in the state to win 100 matches. But he was more than an outstanding wrestler. Allow me to explain. The champ was the epitome of the scholar-athlete. He carried a grade-point average of 3.93 in the "college prep" curriculum. The champ was also a member and officer in numerous clubs aŁd organizations, including the National Honor Society and the Key Club.
During the summer after his junior year, the champ and his fellow Key Club peers participated in a county-wide volunteer program, working with exceptional students who were physically or mentally challenged. The champ was chosen to help "Mickey," a learning-disabled studeŁt from a neighboring school, with his reading problem. Mickey knew about the champ's successes on the mat and idolized him. So the champ came up with an idea to motivate Mickey to read.
They were assigned to spend two hours a day for eight weeks. The champ suggested to his protege, "Mickey, let's devote an hour learning to read Scholastic Wrestling News and Amateur Wrestling News. Then I will teach you how to wrestle during our last hour together. What do you say?" Mickey enthusiastically exclaimed, "Yes!
That summer, both Mickey and the champ learned much from each other. They became close friends. But this is far from the end of the story.
Mickey went out for wrestling the next year and made his school's wrestling team. He was not very good, and neither was his team. As fate would have it, Mickey's team was to face the champ's squad in the final dual meet of the year. To make matters worse, Mickey and the champ were in the same weight class. If ever there was a overwhelming athletic mismatch, this would be that match. The champ, considered invincible, was undefeated at the time. As a matter of fact, he pinned over 90 percent of his opponents throughout the season.
A day before the meet, the champ asked his coach if they could talk privately. In that era of high school sports, an athlete did not question the coach's actions or ask for a conference.
The champ did.
"Coach, I don't want to wrestle tomorrow night," pleaded the champ.
"I worked with my opponent all last summer, teaching him to read. We made great progress. Wrestling him might hinder the close relationship we developed. His name is Mickey and I consider him to be a very good friend."
The coach would have none of that and firmly stated, "You're wrestling. You have the opportunity to become the first wrestler in the state to ever win 100 matches. It will be a tribute to your hard work, the program, and the school. You ARE wrestling!"
At weigh-ins the night of the meet, Mickey quickly came over to the champ, heartily shaking his hand and saying, "We're going to have fun tonight. I really love wrestling." (Mickey won only one match the entire year.) "Yeah, Mickey, we're going to have fun tonight," responded the champ as he glanced away, feeling extremely uncomfortable.
The dual meet, for want of better words, was a massacre. Mickey's team hadn't won a bout. And the final match of the evening was heavyweight -- Mickey versus the champ.
The fans laughed when Mickey tripped on the edge of the mat, running out to face his opponent -- the champ. Standing by his coach, the champ quietly told him, "Coach, I will not pin Mickey or embarrass him in any way." The coach just looked at him as he walked on the mat.
At the start of the first period, the champ bear-hugged Mickey, took him to his back, but let him flip over to his stomach. The champ then rode him out the remainder of the period.
It was the champ's choice In the second period, and he selected the top position. Allowing Mickey to escape, the champ snapped him down, spun behind for the takedown, and again rode Mickey the rest of the second period. It was a very uneventful match to this point.
In the third period, Mickey assumed the top position. The champ quickly escaped at the shrill sound of the whistle. The champ skillfully maneuvered into an over- and under-hook position on Mickey in preparation to execute a lateral drop (a standing pancake). This would take Mickey directly to back. As he was about to initiate the move, the coach noticed a strange gleam in the champ's eyes. Then somehow his feet got tangled as he fell, and Mickey was the one on top, with the champ on his back . Before the champ could react, the referee slapped the mat, indicating a fall. While the champ lay there motionless, Mickey's teammates ran out on the mat, picked him up on their shoulders, celebrating the unbelievable upset.
The crowd went wild!
The champ's teammates were both stunned and silent, having no idea what to say to him, or even how to console him. As he entered the locker room following the meet, the champ's coach immediately motioned him into the wrestling room. Without saying a word, he then slammed the door shut.
The champ didn't have any idea what to expect, except - of course - the worst. They were now alone, facing each other. With hands on hips, the coach just stood there, glaring at him for what seemed like an eternity. The champ felt very small for a burly heavyweight.
Finally, the coach slowly shook his head, smiled a bit, and whispered, "Get the hell outta here."
(Author's note: This tale is based on a true story. The champ went on to win his fourth state title. He later won a national championship in college. Oh, by the way, the champ's record in high school was 99-1.)