Wrestling at Mat Classic: A father's view, a son's dream
My son’s wrestling season started on a cold, rainy November morning at the Mercer Island High School track. His goal of reaching the Mat Classic XXV at the Tacoma Dome was three months away. It felt like eons.
For my son Taylan, it was three months of sweat. Three months of maintaining and cutting weight. Three months psyching himsellf up for every match.
And, for me, three months of nervous anticipation.
It takes a unique athlete to handle rigors of wrestling. Those early-morning and after-school practices, rigorous conditioning and physical matches, traveling to all the weekend tournaments across the state.
Losing a wrestling match is not like three-putting at a golf tournament on the 18th hole.
In wrestling you’re taught to put down your opponent on the mat at nearly all costs. Shoulders and arms arched in painful positions, battling through pain and injuries. Bloody noses, black eyes and fat lips are all just part of the sport.
The Mat Classic finally came to reality after Taylan captured the 106-pound Class 3A Region III title at Kelso High School, where only the top four advanced to 16-person bracket at state.
Last Friday, we arrived at the Tacoma Dome around 7:30 a.m. I could feel the excitement in the air.
Cars lined up to get into the parking lots and people three to five deep waiting at the ticket windows. Then we walked inside the Tacoma Dome. Awaiting us were 24 brightly colored mats spread across the dome’s floor, and more than 1,200 wrestlers representing hundreds of schools across the state.
As fans filled the seats, I saw a rainbow of colors for high schools that I didn’t even know existed in our state: Chewelah, Napavine, Kiona-Benton, Adna, Wilbur-Creston, Wahluke, Chiawana; Freeman and Deer Park, just to name a few.
A sense of nervous anticipation filled the air as wrestlers warmed up on the mat with upbeat music cranking from the speakers. From the upper-level seats where our team sat, wrestlers looked like ants in constant motion, peppered with officials, table runners and referees.
Then they cleared the mats for the final time a recording of “America the Beautiful” sung by the late Ed Aliverti, the longtime voice of Mat Classic. Not a whisper could be heard.
Cheers and applause echoed throughout the dome. “Officials you can start your matches!” the announcer said.
My son wrestled in Match 1 on Mat 1 in the Class 3A. It started right on schedule. Obviously, my focus was on Taylan, but 23 other matches were going on simultaneously. Call it controlled chaos as action goes nonstop all day.
Later in the day, my son told me how nervous he was during that first winning match as thousands of people watched.
The waiting game at wrestling tournaments can be unbelievably vexing at times to both spectators and wrestlers.
His first match started at 10 a.m. only to be followed by a quarterfinal match at 4 p.m. More than 12 hours after he arrived, he won his third match at 7:15 p.m., advancing to the medal round Saturday.
The final day was rough for my son, as he lost both matches. The could’ves, would'ves, should’ves settled in knowing this was the final moments of a very good season.
He was consoling himself in the corner of the dome when the mother of another wrestler noticed him.
“You have nothing to hold your head down about, and I expect to see you here again next season because you’re an excellent wrestler,” said the mother of a senior wrestler from Timberline of Lacey. “You’re fast, and I just love that smile on your face. Keep up the hard work.”
Before the championship finals was the Parade of Champions, which is a colorful grand entrance of all the wrestlers who advanced to the podium as well as cheerleaders and referees.
We watched the championship matches, where hearts were broken, and dreams were realized.
Between final matches, each weight class received their medals on the podium as parents and friends took pictures.
Jim Richards, a member of the Mat Classic medical staff who has attended every state wrestling championship since 1960 wrapped the eighth-place medal around my son’s neck.
“I expect to see you higher on the podium next year," he whispered in Taylan's ear.
My son smiled and pointed out how special it was to get encouragement from a member of the Washington State Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Both of Richards grandson’s are my son’s teammates on the Mercer Island High School wrestling team.
Mat Classic was an unforgettable experience for my son and our family.
As we walked out of the Tacoma Dome, the sun briefly came out. That cold November day was just a distant memory.
Mark Yuasa writes the Real Time Fishing blog for The Seattle Times. Want to be a reader contributor to the Seattle Times' Take 2 blog? Email your original, previously unpublished work or proposal to Sports Editor Don Shelton at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Not all submissions can be published. The Times reserves the right to edit and publish any submissions online and/or in print.