... on "A Moment of Mat Magnificance"
(A True Story of Individual Determination)
I remember a 10-year boy running home along the railroad tracks, crying. He had just observed his older brother getting pinned by Dennis Slattery, a fine wrestler from Williamsport, Pennsylvania. That was the next to last time he ever saw his brother wrestle in high school.
Please realize that this boy worshiped his brother and couldn't stand the thought of watching him lose. Thus, from that point on, he waited at home to find out how his brother did. It wasn't until his older brother's junior year that he finally built up the courage to observe him once more. Let me explain how it all came to be.
For two years his older brother had lost four times to an outstanding wrestler, Bill Hughes, from Muncy, Pennsylvania, and the score in the closest match had been 5-1. Hughes, a senior that year, was picked (by coaches and sportswriters alike) to be the state champion in the same weight class as "big brother." So the brother would have to face the invincible Hughes during the finals of the district tournament and only the winner would advance to the next level of competition.
In the district semi-finals, this little fellow's brother won a very tight match, but at the expense of a sprained neck. Between sessions, his father applied hot towels to the back of his neck to relieve the pain and tenseness. During the ordeal, the father suggested that maybe he shouldn't wrestle in the night's finals against Hughes, a very physical wrestler who took no pity on anyone who dared to challenge him. The older brother would hear none of that. Furthermore, he told his younger brother to come to the match because he wasn't going to lose to his nemesis again. Although the youth was hesitant at first, he ultimately went to the championship round.
The gym that night was filled beyond capacity, with standing room only. A solitary spotlight illuminated the entire glossy surface of the squared mat located in the center of the arena. Groping his way in the darkness under the bleachers, the little brother reached a corner of the gym where the parellel bars were situated. With the help of some friends, he balnced himself on the top of one bar, leaning against the wall, so he could see the mat above the many heads of those standing.
Two teams were vying for the coveted District IV Team Championship--Muncy and big brother's squad, Shamokin, PA (Note, there were no state team titles in those days.). Muncy had six athletes in the finals and Shamokin had five. Moreover, all five of the Shamokin grapplers would face Muncy opponents, starting with the boy's brother.
While his brother was warming up for the 120-pound match, the younger off-spring glanced at Hughes in the shadows, remembering how strong he was and, just then, realizing that his brother had never managed to score anything but an escape against him. Yet his brother told him to come to the gym and assured him that he wouldn't be disappointed. "And now, ladies and gentlemen, wrestling at the 120-pound match, from Muncy . . ." The match was about to start and the younger brother considered the possibility of vacating the facility, but it was too crowded and too late. The whistle had blown to begin the first period and Hughes shot in on his brother with explosive force. Hughes nearly scored a takedwon, as they plummeted out-of-bounds. After that, the majority of the period was loaded with surprising attacks and stunning counters from both matmen. And the spectators were screaming for points!
As the climax of the period approached, Hughes feigned a double leg and slid in for a slick single leg, securing a takedown. Instantly, the youngster's brother recovered with an escape. At the end of the first period, it was 2-1 in favor of Hughes.
Starting the second period, Hughes chose the top position, and within two seconds the Shamokin wrestler procured another escape. The next minute found both grapplers embraced in a mortal struggle for dominance. The onlookers had now transformed into primordial beasts, howling for the kill of one or the other predator battling viciously on the luminous center circle. The younger brother nearly fell from the parellel bar when his older sibling almost scored with a dazzling double leg, only to receive the most excruciating crossface he ever encountered, drawing blood from his nose. In a flash, Hughes reacted with a brilliant arm drag, scoring another takedown. (He was truly an amazing maching on his feet.) And moments later, the boy's brother scored an escape, which was of little consolation to him. The announcer broadcasted a 4-3 lead for the Muncy matman at the close of the second stanza.
Then the unusual happened; the boy's brother chose the down position at the beginning of the final period, a strategic "no-no" back then. The Shamokin coach was not pleased with the decision at all. But as before, upon the referee's whistle, the older scored with a basic stand-up escape (4-4). Immediately, the spectators were on their feet, sensing the possiblity of a very unexpected upset. But it was short-lived when Hughes executed a picture-perfect, ankle-pick takedown (6-4). Performing a snappy sit-out series, the boy's brother notched another one-point escape (6-5). The action that followed was consumed with some of the greatest offensive tactics and defensive maneuvers ever witnessed by these central Pennsylvania wrestling fans.
With less than 20 seconds left in the bout, Hughes drop stepped back, faked a tie-up, shot in deeply for a double leg, meeting a ravaging inside elbow to the face, as the two matmen careened out-of-bounds. No one scored. Returning to the 10-foot circle, Hughes felt a warm trickle of crimson oozing from the side of his month; he was really human, after all! It was then that the younger brother noticed a look on his brother's face he never saw before, the red-eyed gleam of unbridled determination. At the ref's signal, a sound resembling that of a roar was heard throughout the gym as the older brother penetrated Hughes's defensive perimeter and lifted him off the mat. Total silence permeated the gymnasium. Time, for just an instant, stopped! And for that minute moment in athletic history, he was the greatest wrestler in the world.
The older brother rallied from behind to score the final, devastating takedown, winning the match 7-6. Those in attendance gave both galiant gladiators on the glistening mat a five-minute standing ovation, and the younger brother surfaced from the pandemonium to hug his idol. Everyone present believed that they had just observed the state championship match two weeks early, and they weren't wrong because Floyd Welker easily swept through the state tournament at Penn State's Rec Hall 14 days later.
Oh, by the way, Shamokin won districts that year, with individual victories in all the tourney finals. And I cried, again, that night of long ago, but for a far different reason than the first time. Though you may not believe this, I never watched my older brother wrestle thereafter. I had no need to because I witnessed him at his very best. For you see, Floyd Robert Welker, a real-life "Rocky," reached his "vision quest" on a chilly March evening in 1959. To him, it was truly a moment of mat magnificence!
Updated August 11, 1997