Evanson column: when it comes to wrestling, love it or hate it, but you've got to respect it
Let's get ready to rumble!
This Friday and Saturday, Feb. 28-29, will bring the OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union 2020 Wrestling State Championships at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. From the opening whistle it'll be all wrestling, all the time.
No, not the kind with entrance music, ropes, turnbuckles and moves like the Suplex, Piledriver or Camel Clutch, but rather the one consisting of single and double leg takedowns, escapes, shoots and moves like the Fireman's Carry and Duck Under Lift In Crotch Finish (that's right, I said it). They'll be a lot of sweat, a little blood and singlets. Lots of singlets.
But what you won't find are shortcuts, physical or mental weakness or an easy way out. Not at this meet, and certainly not with this cast of characters.
Wrestling is built around very simple concepts: hard work, dedication and sacrifice.
It takes discipline, breeds humility and teaches kids how to compete, the benefits of which go far beyond the mat.
Much can be learned from participating in sports such as football, basketball, baseball or softball, soccer, volleyball and beyond, but there's no better classroom than the wrestling gym, and no better test than one conducted on that 28-foot-in-diameter circle, typically in the center of a gym or arena. It's you versus that man or woman in front of you. No teammates to lean on, no bench to sit on and nowhere to hide from the unstoppable force coming straight for you. It's put up or shut up — or else.
I'm not telling you I love the sport. In fact, throughout my childhood I couldn't have been less interested in an activity I felt was simply an out for kids lacking the athleticism to compete in a "real sport." You know — something that involves running and jumping, with a little hand/eye coordination. But while not a fan as a kid, I've learned to appreciate it as an adult.
There's nothing easy about wrestling. Practice is hard, and the competitions don't get any easier. While many think it's about strength, which it is to a point, it's really about technique honed through countless hours of practice and repetition.
In a time seemingly further devoid of activity by the day, wrestling offers a hyperactive alternative to the video game/cell phone/tablet culture of the present, an activity built to help you later, for a generation used to instant gratification.
It's about the investment in something bigger. Wrestlers don't want an ice cream sundae any less than you or I, but they understand that the feeling you get from abstaining is actually better after-the-fact than the one you have while eating it — and the sport teaches them how to make that happen.
Over the past decade the number of male high school wrestlers has dropped by nearly 10 percent. Last year, however, it leveled off. To the contrary, the number of female wrestlers has increased by more than 250 percent over the last decade, and in 2019 Oregon became the eighth U.S. state to add girls wrestling as an official girls state championship, joining Hawaii, Texas, California, Georgia, Washington, Tennessee and Alaska. This can only help the sport, but ultimately I'm not sure it needs it.
Wrestling is a mindset passed down by generations of former grapplers themselves. Go to a meet like the state championships this weekend and you'll see it in the fans, the coaches and even the officials, who wear their love for it on their sleeves. There's an appreciation for the sport, a respect for the opponent and an enthusiasm not just for the match or tournament, but also for what it all represents. You rarely see that elsewhere.
So if you've got a couple of hours this Friday or Saturday, go check it out. There won't be much flash, and likely less trash talk, but there will be passion on the mat, the sidelines and definitely in the stands. You may not love it, but I assure you you'll respect it — and that's all these competitors ask.
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