State wrestling: Raw sport at its finest
I've been to plenty of big sporting events in my life. I've attended a Wrestlemania, March Madness, several NFL games and two Rose Bowls. Each of which were spectacular with different levels of grandeur and mystique to them. Each provided a vibrant, lively crowd and showcased the best that their respective sports had to offer. However, I will remember none of those events in quite the same way as I will remember my first trip to Wells Fargo Arena.
As I scrambled to find a place to park, which entrance to go through and what mat to find, I wasn't able to fully appreciate the totality of my environment. Overestimating my intrinsic navigation skills, I found myself about four minutes late to the first match I was supposed to cover at the IHSAA state wrestling tournament. It was a 106-pound bout between Colfax-Mingo’s Jimmy Abell and Wilton’s Tanner Greenwald.
At the time, I had just one thing on my mind: I hope I find the right mat. I made my way to the media area and scurried to the floor. Seeing familiar coaches at the floor entrance, I knew I was finally in the right place. As luck would have it, I sat down at the correct match (which was in the final period), snapped some photos and was able to gather myself shortly thereafter.
Knowing it would be about a half hour before my next match to cover, I took the opportunity to gather myself and take in the surroundings. I had never seen anything quite like this. With eight mats going at once, it was almost impossible to keep track of which fans were cheering for whom, at least until one of the matches ended and there was an audible roar from that wrestler’s cheering section.
I saw wrestling fans from all around the state packed into the 16,100-seat arena. Some came from hours away to support a single competitor from their school, but when they got their chance, they screamed as loud and as hard as the rest.
I saw the athletes around me. Some were trying to loosen up. Some tried to calm their nerves. All of them looked ready for what lay before them, even though I know only very few actually were. Their coaches stood beside them to provide both tactical as well as emotional support, but they made little difference at this point other than a possible shoulder to cry on for those unfortunate enough to be eliminated early.
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