With temperatures getting lower by the day, it's clear we're progressing further and further into winter. And the further we get into winter, the closer we get to spring.
However, we can't get to spring without first passing through one of Iowa's most treasured pastimes — the high school state wrestling tournament.
With the completion of the Heart of Iowa Conference meet last week and the Little Hawkeye Conference and South Iowa Cedar League meets coming up this weekend, it means sectionals are just around the corner.
For someone who grew up outside of Iowa but still aware of wrestling, it was interesting to see just how much the sport means to the state. In my college years and the time since, I have also come to appreciate the sport and its unique spot in Iowans' hearts.
My first major assignment as a journalism student was covering the Iowa State wrestling team. That year, the Cyclones had two individual national champions and finished third in the country at the NCAA Championships. I had no prior experience or knowledge with wrestling, but covering a high-profile team forced me to learn on the fly, which also helped me develop an interest in wrestling.
Then, a year later, I got my first real-world job in a state that didn't sanction high school wrestling as an official sport. Going from watching some of the best wrestling in the country to no wrestling at all was something of a shock, especially after spending five years in Iowa. So when I returned about another year later, I was looking forward to covering wrestling once again.
Now, don't get me wrong here. Much like mother, I love all the sports I cover equally. However, wrestling brings a much different level of intensity and involvement than any other sport. Besides the coaches and teammates yelling at the action on the mat, you'll almost always have the assorted group of former wrestlers that just as focused as the wrestlers themselves.
These spectators will assume the regular position anyone associated with wrestling is familiar with: leaning forward and rocking back and forth with clasped hands. I've seen it anywhere from high school classmates that were wrestlers to the parents in the stands at meets this winter.
Take all of that passion and excitement for the sport and multiply it by a few thousand people in one place, and you've got the state wrestling tournament. It's one of the most grinding, emotional and physically draining events there is ... for sports writers.
Besides the state fair and various Iowa vs. Iowa State events, the state wrestling tournament is one of the most uniquely "Iowan" events in the state. Outside of high school football in Texas, it would probably be difficult to find a state that rallies around one high school event on the big of a scale.
It remains to be seen, but I have to imagine Jasper County will have at least a few representatives at state this year. At least for the athletes' sake, I hope there are. State in any sport is the ultimate reward, but from what I've seen of state wrestling, it's more than just about the competition. After a season of cutting and regulating weight, reaching state is an emotional reward affects not only the competitiors, but also parents and coaches as well.
One thing I know for sure is we're in for a wild couple of weeks coming up between the postseason for basketball, swimming and wrestling. Any state qualifiers in any of those sports are bound for a rewarding experience, no matter where they finish or how they perform.
However, you're unlikely to find the crowd and involvement the state wrestling tournament can offer. Just like of Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands filling every seat in Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.