Beside the Point – Fort Madison wrestling is contagious







I never wrestled in high school.

We didn’t have it at West Burlington, but even if we did I wouldn’t have put on a singlet. It would have been like that sweaty nightmare where everyone is staring at you laughing with all index fingers pointed at you. This is all in slow motion, my opponent would have been between me and the crowd in his headgear laughing right along. Not only at my skinny high school body but knowing in about 20 seconds he would turn me into a pretzel. I think there’s a 10 point scoring bonus for turning your opponent into a pretzel.

In more than 10 years of reporting, editing and publishing I’ve never even covered a wrestling match until this year. I’ve spoken with murderers, presidential candidates, renowned musicians.

When I first walked into a wrestling match there were four mats on the floor, time clocks everywhere, cheerleaders sitting SITTING and pounding on the floor, wrestlers loosening up all over the place, parents and fans screaming “STAND UP”, “Roll him!” “SHOOT!”


I decided I would walk around and look like other photographers. Actually I was just looking for Derek Doherty. I’ve known him and his family for years and if anyone could save me it would be Derek. FMHS Head Coach Ryan Smith and Derek both remind of that dude in high school that was totally laid back (dude….totally) but if you poked the wrong way would go buck wild.

Anyway, my high school inhibitions aside, I started looking for the pod of FMHS wrestlers so I could keep my eye on them and start getting some pictures. I’m a decent photographer, but I play the odds. If you shoot 200 pictures at an event, the odds are on your side. My wife tells me I’m good and my pictures are great. I tell her the camera she bought me is great.

Anyway, I shot the invitational tournament, had no clue how scoring worked, but I have a sense for when things go well and when they don’t. It allows me to ask at least well-formed questions of Smith after the event. They have a great website called This website virtually tracks all wrestling invitationals and duals and such and you can get scoring and results there shortly after the meet is over. I was able to write a decent story and give some good coverage.

I ventured back to a dual the next week. Much easier to shoot as everything’s on one mat. I can just sit at the side and shoot pictures. I’m still not sure of the scoring but I’m getting there. Some of the matches honestly take a while to get going. The two opponents typically take at least few moments to size each other up, at some point somebody gets their opponent on the ground and then training kicks in on how to keep your hands out, base wide if you’re under your opponent. Or if you have the advantage and have an upper position, you ride and move with your opponent waiting for an opportunity to roll and possibly pin.

These boys and coaches take this stuff very seriously. They’re upset when they lose and happy when they win. Ryan and Derek always shake their wrestler’s hand after and do a debrief of sorts on what happened.

It all seemed typical of high school sports until one match in particular where I learned first hand where people get their passion for the sport.

Diego Lozano was in a tough match, in my short time covering it seems Diego has a propensity for last minute heroics. But it was a match full of strategy and positioning and Diego was down 0-2 with about one minute left and he was covered by his opponent. Things turned quickly and Diego began to wiggle his way free. I was shooting heavy because the crowd started making some noise. I didn’t really know what was happening or what was about to happen, but I was sitting on the corner of the mat shooting away and then Diego escaped with about 20 seconds left. 2-2. I thought, ‘Oh, this is good.” But then something awesome happened. Ryan and Derek jumped out of their corner chairs and ran to the mat followed by every single member of the FMHS wrestling team yelling and pointing “GET HIM!” “SHOOT’, ‘RUSH HIM’ or something…I don’t know, but it was very loud and extremely exciting. Everyone was shouting and I’m on the floor shooting like a madman at whomever and whatever was moving.

Apparently Diego had about 15 seconds to grab his opponent and get him to the ground and everyone in the gym knew it but me. Which he did…and won the match.

I did get a decent shot of Diego on top after bum rushing his opponent and bringing him to the floor with the ref showing the winning two points and flash bulb going off from some other photographer. I’m sure HE knew what he was doing.

But since that moment, coupled with watching Harlan Steffensmeier appear to toy with his opponents like a cat wraps itself around a stuffed toy and pins it to the ground, I’ve developed a curious interest in the sport. I found myself torn by sticking around on Saturday for the girls basketball game or going to Cedar Rapids to watch the J-Hawks Invite. My dad’s birthday kept me home…but I almost went.

This new sport is exciting to me and it’s been part of a storied FMHS history for decades. I’ll fit in just fine. But I just have to remember that even though I may want to, I’m a reporter/photographer and I can’t yell… “GET HIM!”.

But that’s Beside the Point.



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