A bird’s eye view of wrestling

You couldn’t make it?  Too bad.  It’s Iowana at it’s best.  From all over the state, young men and women came to compete — to see who is the strongest, quickest, and most clever.  They did moves like the half nelson, the single leg takedown, the double leg takedown, and the ankle pick.  Of course, these might also be the specials they were offering at the concession stands.  Got me.  Although, I was mildly disappointed to find out there would be no one wrestling in a costume calling himself “The Undertaker.”  But I went this year because that’s what retired guys do.  Here’s what I saw and here are the new words I learned.

Water bugs.  At 106 pounds these are water bugs.  All legs and arms and quick movements skimming the surface of the mat.  When they lock together, it is an entanglement of filaments — a leg twisted around an arm, twisted around a waist, with a head over there and a foot over here.  A bundle of limbs.   The wrestlers skittle on and skittle off.  A victor is found, but I’m not sure if body parts haven’t been exchanged.  A whole new water bug leaves the mat.


Bull elk.  Large.  Powerful.  Shy, but territorial.  285 pounds of a boy not yet a man.  There is nothing mean.  Nothing brutish.  Nothing evil in these mammoth boys.  Gentleness is the name of the game.  But out they come to lock horns.  Knotted together at the arms and shoulders.  Immovable.  Neither one bends to sweep the legs.  Neither one feints to the right or to the left.  How dare they?  Their mass unbalanced will quickly tumble them to the ground.  And that is the end.  They struggle with this knowledge.  Locked together.  Knowing that today it is you on the ground, tomorrow it is me.


Roosters.  Prancing around the gym at 182 pounds, chests thrust out, arms sculpted with muscles, chins chiseled.  They are 17 years old going on 27.  They needed to shave twice today just to keep up appearances.  And here they are.  Ready to fight.  Watch them warm-up off the mat.  Glaring and thumping and dropping to one knee to shoot inside the imaginary opponent.  The fans whoop it up on the sidelines.  Happy.  Excited.  Watching the wrestler off-stage.  Forget the actual match.  This is the real arena for the 182 pounder.  Strutting their stuff in the chicken yard.  And the interesting twist?  It doesn’t really matter if they lose a feather or two.  Their crow will still be heard in the morning.

Prairie dogs.  The coaches all line the corners of the mat.  Sitting two abreast.  Placidly at the start.  Then bent at the waist.  Then hands cupped around their mouths to shout.  Then conferring intently with each other.  Then — wait for it —  they spring out of their holes.  Jumping and shouting and gesturing.   Whew.  Back to their hole they go.  Sitting placidly once again.  Wiping their furry brows with a small hand towel.

Yellow labs.  Their butts high in the air.  Chest down on the ground.  Eyes forward watching the action.  Scooting to the left.  Then scooting to the right.  Dancing and dancing around all the fun.  Pulling in close to slap a hand against the mat.  Darting back out to circle and circle and circle.  Barking at one wrestler.  Then barking at another.  It doesn’t stop until everyone is herded off the mat.  Wagging their tails, the referees are just happy to be there.


There you go.  Now you know everything I know about Iowa high school wrestling.  I can’t wait for high school basketball.









2 thoughts on “A bird’s eye view of wrestling

  1. Many years ago I was a young sports writer covering the state wrestling tournament when it was still held in the cozy confines of The Barn. I skipped from mat to mat, dragging my camera bag and notebooks along to document the successes and failures of local high school kids. At one point, I was perched on the edge of a mat and directly above my head, a mother was leaning in over the restraining rope, offering encouragement to her son in an attempt to will him to victory. The primary encouragement she offered was to screech, “JASON, GO THROUGH THE CROTCH!! JASON, GO THROUGH THE CROTCH!!” at the top of her lungs. Poor Jason was what unkind wrestlers referred to as a “fish.” A kid who was tossed around the mat by his opponent and who inevitably ended up on his back. In this case, poor Jason’s eyes were bugging out and his hips wobbled as he strained to keep his shoulders off the mat. Alas, he was unable to “go through the crotch” and his state wrestling meet ended when he was on the receiving end of a pin. As best I could tell, all crotches remained in tact.

    The Iowa state wrestling tournament; an experience like no other.

  2. Joe,

    Great perspective, once again, on an Iowan institution. However, I’m always taken back in time to 1968 when the subject of Iowa wrestling is discussed, a sad and painful journey that I haven’t taken in quite awhile. Here’s a link that will provide some background as to the “why”:


    The Powers family lived in my neighborhood, my younger sister and Pamela were good friends, and Mark, who went on to win one or two state wrestling titles in his weight class, was a classmate of my older sister.

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