This tradition is really unlike any other - Beside the Point


Walking into New London High School Saturday morning, I forgot to put my mask on.

In a crappy irony, it's an easy thing to forget because it's becoming such a normal thing to do. Anyway, I was talking to my brother on the phone and told him to put a couple bucks on Mich. St. to cover at home over Ohio State because the Buckeyes were missing several lineman.

He did. I guess Ohio State's second tier is as good as the first. Mich. St. didn't cover and my brother protects his bucks. When I say a couple bucks it was probably one dollar... and I heard about it Saturday night.

But when I called him at 11 p.m. - that's when I finished my work and didn't realize it was that late, he asked me if something was wrong. He always answers when I call, and this year - anything could be wrong.

I laughed and realized I didn't know what time it was. I had just finished writing a piece on the Jeremy Fulk Classic after sitting in New London watching wrestling all day.

There's one thing about wrestling that's different from other sports, and it really is hard to put in words.

That's a different group.

I wrote a piece about four years ago, making it very clear that I knew nothing at that point (I know just a little now) about the sport. I need to sit with Mitch Doherty and Mark Cartwright and play rapid fire with questions like - what the heck is the ref doing when he swirls his arms in the air? If he bounced at the knees it'd be a funky move.

I think that means a rolling reversal, but I don't know what a rolling reversal is, only that it happened, because the referee started his dance. I carefully jest about these activities.

Wrestling's for real in Fort Madison. It's popularity has waned nationally, I believe, because year-round outdoor sports in indoor facilities has kept some kids away from the programs. And wrestling clubs have made shopping easier for schools that 'recruit'.

It's a demanding physical assault on the body, but training and solid coaching prevent a lot of these injuries.

I don't speak out of turn there.

I remember watching Ryan Steffensmeier years ago in a match where his opponent had an arm under his chin and some other body part vicing him and then pulled him back like a catapult in a fashion that caused me to audibly wince. I think I could see his bone through translucent skin that had been stretched too tight. "Oh my God," I said.

I think he got out of it and wrapped the kid up like a piece of banana bread and walked off.

These kids wrestle for the tradition they've seen for decades. A tradition cultivated right here in north Lee County. Under names like Pickford, Doherty, Smith, Steffensmeier, and many others - and that shows the true extent of my shallow knowledge because I know I'm leaving names out.

Wrestling starts young here and has seen its winners - since 1968 we've had state champions. Winners named Crooks, Weakley, Flach, Martinez, Johnson, and a couple different Steffensmeiers. I wouldn't want to fight for the last drumstick in those homes. But then again, you're probably more ready for that tussle than most.

It's also neat that those winners usually come in TWOOOOO, the bellow you hear from the stands when one grappler takes another down. Jason Crooks, Nick Flach, Rusty Weakley, Gary Steffensmeier, all are two-time state champions.

I get accepted into the section dedicated for Fort Madison's families because I'm part of the group that chronicles the event, but they know you're not a usual suspect. They can sense you're a weird bird in the nest.

But here I sit on a Saturday in shorts, with a sense of guilt and wanting to pay my brother a dollar. I have a camera, a migraine (my first ever), and I'm scribbling notes on each Hound match, sometimes two at a time - take it easy on a brother - and there are few other places I'd rather be.

Derek Doherty sent me a note when I got home. "Thanks for coming". It really is our pleasure.

Jim Nantz, of CBS Sports fame coined the Master's tag line ... "A tradition unlike any other..". He really needs to come to Fort Madison and sit next to me in the wrestling stands. - But That's Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

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