Korby's Corner: Wrestling not for wimpsVictories in wrestling for me came against my stuffed animal toys on my bed when I was growing up. I was far too wimpy to ever experience the sport firsthand, understanding that only the strongest compete.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Admittedly, I was that middle school student who always looked forward to Cloquet lunch day when the school served mozzarella sticks, stuffed-crust pizza or my favorite, garlic cheese bread.
Yes, there were times I ordered doubles, or swapped my milk for additional garlic bread. Like many, I had no rules of eating.
Cloquet eighth-grader Conner Denman doesn’t have the luxury.
As a lean 132-pound grappler for the Cloquet-Esko wrestling program, Denman watches his weight constantly. Now in his second year of varsity, Denman bypassed mozzarella sticks at school Tuesday before defeating his opponent that evening in Virginia.
“He’s very skilled at knowing what he can eat, at what time and on what day,” said Al Denman, Conner’s father and seventh-year Lumberjacks wrestling coach. “It’s a very Spartan-like style of training.”
“Salad, milk and water,” Conner added. “Sometimes I’ll have chicken, and egg rolls are my favorite at school, but you always have to think twice about what you eat. After a few days or weeks, it gets easy – it’s all worth it to get your arm raised in victory.”
Victories in wrestling for me came against my stuffed animal toys on my bed when I was growing up. I was far too wimpy to ever experience the sport firsthand, understanding that only the strongest compete.
“You’re out there doing one-on-one combat against, many times, a stranger you don’t know,” Al Denman said. “On top of that, people are watching you. It’s definitely scary and intimidating for sure.”
To simplify the sport, a regular high school dual includes two athletes wrestling in a boundary circle on the mat for three two-minute periods seeking points, a pin, or just looking to survive.
Hence, the reason why “me and my scrawny-self” never joined it.
“It is six minutes of an all-out battle – basically, a fight with rules,” Coach Denman said. “You can get beaten. For some, that’s tough.”
Cloquet’s Kristina Erickson, a 138-pound senior, has been wrestling since the fourth grade and takes pride in her sport.
“It’s challenging; certainly not easy,” said Erickson, one of just three girls on the team this season. “I’ve never shied away from talking about it, because I’m proud to be a part of this program.”
Erickson’s courage simply dumbfounds me. What bravery it takes to step into the ring against boy after boy. Still, in her time, she’s had her share of wins, along with Denman’s oldest daughter, Jolynne.
“I really have to tip my hat to the girls,” added Denman.
Denman, who was a competitive rower before helping build the varsity wrestling program nearly a decade ago, said that’s the only activity that comes close to the pain of wrestling.
Practices for Coach Denman usually last a couple of hours, finishing last week with 30-plus wrestlers coated in sweat, breathing heavily and gasping for more air. Many kids lose several pounds.
“There are all sorts of reasons to quit,” Denman said, “but after your battle, it’s an indescribable feeling to get your arm raised.”
And no, not like me, raising your arm for more garlic bread.