“Ricky was a young boy. He had a heart of stone. Lived nine to five and he worked his fingers to the bone,” sang Skid Row through my headphones connected to my Sony Walkman. The sound of jump ropes and fans yelling in the stands filled the gym. I was busy staying warm and getting psyched up behind the bleachers by jumping rope and listening to my latest favorite band. There were just a few more matches in the heavyweight rounds taking place to determine who would be in the finals. The gym smelled of sweat and hope as everyone watched in anticipation.
I spent the afternoon wrestling my way through my first varsity tournament after getting a bye in the first round and then winning my next two matches – both pins. I was filled with excitement, and fear, since I knew my best competition was coming up. Ty Freel wrestled for our rival school from the next town over and had developed quite the reputation already. People called him dangerous and nasty. He had this great finishing move that was called by some – a headlock, but by the wrestling community – a head and arm. His first two matches, after his first round bye, resulted in first period pins with the head and arm.
I had paid close attention since I was warned by some of my teammates that he was probably the best wrestler at my weight and had earned the number one seed. His head and arm were deadly, they said. In his first match he wrestled, he smacked the other kid around a bit at the beginning causing the wrestler to get frustrated and annoyed enough to let his guard down. Once the other wrestler let his guard down, Ty took his right hand that grasped the back of his opponents head as they faced each other, then slid his hand and arm around the head completely where he grabbed the deltoid of his unsuspecting opponent. At the same time, he rotated his hips around in a counter-clockwise motion sinking them deep inside of his opponent’s space causing his body to slide over his hips and on his side. The other wrestler’s feet immediately left the mat as Ty pulled him over the top and raised his right elbow high, throwing his opponent’s shoulder blades straight to the mat. Ty immediately pulled up on the arm that stayed in the air and his opponent’s head, sitting his butt out as far as he could.
The look of determination and arrogant pride showed on his face as he smiled, knowing his win was imminent. Not two or three seconds went by when the referee that had been on his feet quickly followed the action to the mat, sliding down on his own side and rotating his head around so that he could view the opponent’s shoulder blades now firmly pressed against the mat. SMACK! came the sound as the referee hit the mat with his open hand. Ty wrenched on his opponent’s head one more time for good measure before letting go and jumped to his feet. That same smile of pride and disgust of his clearly inferior opponent resonated on his face at the same time. He lifted both hands up and then punched his right fist into the air, while circling around to the center of the mat where he met his opponent once again. They shook hands and the referee grabbed Ty’s hand and stretched it high into the air indicating he was the winner.
I watched again a few hours later when the same match repeated itself almost identically with a different opponent. While I had pinned both of my opponents that day, the first was quicker and I had used a typical, basic single leg takedown followed by a half-nelson pin in the first period. My second match was a bit more challenging as we went three periods, but I was finally able to get the pin with that same basic half-nelson. My mind replayed Ty’s matches over and over as I listened to Skid Row belt out their latest album through my headphones. He’s not gonna put me in a head and arm, I told myself. I watched his set up and knew not to get too close or to press back knowing that he would try and catch me off guard while I was focused on the wrong things before he would throw me off my feet.
“Let’s go!” Luke yelled as he smacked me on the shoulder. Luke, our one hundred and forty pound wrestler notified me that it was time to line up for the finals…