A packed parking lot at a high school wrestling event is rare. Yes, big tournaments, such as our state tournament and others, will draw big crowds. But for the ordinary wrestling events, parking lots are not full. But yesterday when I drove into the Mooresville High School lot I had to park in the outer fringes. Because of the number of cars, I was prepared for a full gym, but even being prepared I was still surprised at what I saw in the gym.
Six mats. About 175 youngsters of all sizes, shapes, and attitudes. Coaches on the mats giving last minute instructions on moves. Nervous parents and older siblings and others sitting in the bleachers or on the mats, talking to each other or the young wrestlers. Some wrestlers wore singlets with team logos. On one of the center mats, varsity and junior varsity wrestlers of our high school huddled as they waited for the wrestling to begin. They would officiate the matches. Waiting with them was their coach. He would announce the event.
Alex Freeze walked to the center of the six mats. The organizer and force behind this rookie scramble, Alex explained the purpose of the scramble to everyone in the gym: The rookie scramble is a chance for less experienced wrestlers to get “mat time.” All matches would be three periods of one minute each of continuous time. If a wrestler was pinned, the match would re-start and continue until the three-minute match was completed. After the match, both wrestlers would have their hands raised. All wrestlers would receive a medal. Mat time. Getting the experience. Being there.
Alex has been managing this event for five years. Unlike the other youth wrestling tournaments he is involved in, this one is designed for inexperienced youngsters to gain the experience of, as Alex likes to say, “mat time.” No pressure of match scoring, just going out onto a mat and competing against an unknown opponent for three minutes. Yes, some wrestlers pinned their opponent, but the match re-started so that both wrestlers got that valuable “mat time.”
The event was a pleasure. While the wrestling was not precise and at times even marginally executed, the courage of the youngsters was inspiring. Before the wrestling began, I watched one father/coach get on his knees to practice takedowns and escapes with his son. After about five minutes of drill, the little fellow put on his headgear, walked out on the mat, and got pinned about six times. After each pin, he would go back to the mat center and start fresh. After the match, his father/coach hugged him and congratulated him on the match.
Everybody begins somewhere. As I watched some of the super bowl later the night after the Rookie Scramble, I wondered about the beginning of those NFL athletes who were playing in their games most important event. Watching the wild half-time show, I wondered how those dancers began. However, I knew how because earlier that day, I had unknowingly witnessed the beginning of some successful wrestler or wrestlers.
By managing the Rookie Scramble, Alex Freeze gives any youngster who wants it, a place to begin a wrestling career. Like all beginnings for any activity, it is likely not precise or grand, but “mat time”, or field time, or studio time gained in such a beginning may prove to be the first step of an unknown adventure or career.