... on the Day I was Beaten Up on the Mat
The NCAA Wrestling Rulebook has often referred to the mat competition as "a sport of discomfort."
I, for one, will never deny that the above statement is truly a reality of wrestling. For some, it may sound a bit harsh, but for guys like me it was a lesson in life I learned that lasted a lifetime.
To be honest, I was basically a "mama's boy." I was a technical wrestler, not a physical one. It was my older brother, Floyd, who was the tough sibling. Wrestling hardened me in body and spirit. The sport prepared me for the tough roads that I would to travel in this world. And I learned quickly. Sometimes the worst beatings are the best learning lessons we can experience. Allow me to explain.
As a freshman grappling in the very competitive Boiling Springs Christmas Invitational (the second oldest holiday wrestling tourney in Pennsylvania), I met the meanest wrestler in my athletic career. It was in the semi-finals of the competition, and the monster's name was Alton Bowyer, a senior wrestler from Easton High School. Easton was and still is one of the most successful wrestling schools in the Keystone State. That day I learned how to fight, or should I say survive.
The match between yours truly and Mr. Bowyer ended by a decision, 5-1. Of course, I lost. But it was more than a loss, it was my introduction to the more primordial aspects of scholastic athletics.
When I walked off the mat, I had a black eye, a pounding headache, a bruised chin, and extremely sore ribs. In reality, I received a "body beating" that I can still feel today.
Did Alton Bowyer commit any unsportsmanlike acts or unnecessary roughness? Perhaps, but in those days you took your lumps (and sometimes, cheap shots) without complaining to the match official. In fact, my coach, who was a hard nose, also said not a word. Excuses for losing in my time were definitely not an option, especially with our coach.
As for my match with Alton Bowyer, I can honestly say I was impressed with the covert maneuvers he used to beat the "crap" out of me during the match. But I must say, I felt no ill will for Alton. To be honest, I admired his aggressiveness. He later went on to win the coveted Pennsylvania state championship that year at Penn State.
Although I was not a very physical or intimidating wrestler myself, I learned to endure pain from others. During the nearly 100 bouts I wrestled in high school, there were many times my leg and arm joints were often stretched beyond the normal range of motion. Thank goodness for those flexibility exercises we performed everyday at practice.
Today, the rules of wrestling have changed drastically in reference to protecting the matmen. There are now many more "illegal holds" that were permitted in the 1950s and 1960s when I wrestled in all states.
Most importantly, our contemporary referees are much better educated and far more aware of the "potentially dangerous" situations that can occur during a bout. Matches are stopped immediately under such circumstances. The modern wrestling official's primary concern is the safety of the wrestlers.
As for yours truly, I still relish the opportunities I had competing against adversaries the likes of Alton Bowyer, who pushed your physical and mental abilities to the limit. By the way, Alton and I later became good friends and I have kiddingly said to him, "Thanks for not killing me!"
Always remember the old, but true adage, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Such was the case for me those many, many years ago.