Fallout from Olympic wrestling takedown – a mother's protest
There's been a furor over the decision not to guarantee wrestling a spot in the 2020 Olympics. Rightly so. I know first-hand what the sport does for young men (including my three sons) and an increasing number of young women. Fortunately, the decision is not final. It's time to speak out.
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In 13 years of watching my three sons wrestle, I learned quickly that people commonly mistake youth and high school wrestling for the clownish, steroid-pumped fights of platinum-blonde professional WWF wrestling on television.Skip to next paragraph
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In reality, each match offers the possibility of an intense one-on-one scramble and then the thud of an official pin – a referee’s slam of his open hand on the mat signaling a boy or girl has been pinned and the match is over. Then, the victor’s hand is thrust into the air by the ref like an exclamation point.
According to the National Federation of High Schools, nearly 57,000 more American high school athletes wrestle than play golf, a sport that the International Olympic Committee plans to keep in the summer mix. There are 13 times more high-school wrestlers in this country than gymnasts in high schools, and nearly the same number of wrestlers as swimmers and divers at the high school level.
All my sons wrestled in youth competitions from about the age of 10 on through high school (my oldest wrestled in his first year of college at University of Wisconsin-Madison). Wrestling taught them a great deal about resilience, humility, and discipline. They learned to connect their behavior directly to an outcome. At first, they simply didn’t want to let down their coach, and then their team. Ultimately they learned they never want to let down themselves. If only every young man and woman could learn such life skills.
Earlier this month, 11 local wrestlers at Oak Park-River Forest High followed in hometown Olympic-wrestler Ellis Coleman’s footsteps and competed in the individual state championships; five placed. Leading up to the team state championships this past weekend, the team ranked No. 1 in Illinois, but lost in the first round of the tournament. They were accompanied by head coach, Mike Powell, an inspiring man honored by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and featured on ESPN, and a man I believe is responsible for shaping my boys – and hundreds of others – into good men.
The NCAA lists 79 wrestling college programs in Division I schools, whose wrestlers now will have nowhere to go to wrestle after they graduate. But for many athletes, the Olympic wrestling dream begins long before then, at about age five. USA Wrestling ranks youth wrestlers around the country on a page titled, U.S. Future Olympian Rankings. They will need to rename the listing.
According to Greek mythology, Zeus wrestled his own father, Kronos, for the throne of Mount Olympus and won. Another win is needed now, perhaps with stakes as high or higher – the dreams of hundreds of thousands of athletes across the globe.
I suggest that every youth, high school, college, or former wrestler, every wrestling mom or dad, plus each coach from any of 200 countries where wrestling is a treasured sport join in the effort to keep wrestling in the Olympics. The match isn’t over yet; there is still time on the clock.
Michele Weldon is an author, assistant professor of journalism at Northwestern University, and a seminar leader at The OpEd Project. She recently completed a memoir on raising her wrestler sons alone and launched the website Wrestling Mom in 2008.