Surviving Memorial Weekend

Memorial ColiseumThe end of the Oregon wrestling season means camping for two days inside Portland’s Memorial Coliseum. It’s part state tournament, part refugee center.

Instead of playing a game and leaving an hour later like a normal sport, the 2012 OSAA State Wrestling Tournament asks more from it’s athletes. Like basic scouting skills. They need to be prepared to compete and BE PREPARED for any problems.

The walkway around the Coliseum bowl looks like the Oregon Country Fair in some places, a Mad Max set in others. The Marines built a workout station; a line of boys wait for the chin-up bar. The National Wrestling Hall of Fame show plaques for Oregon members. Table vendors hawk t-shirts and hoodies.

Mixing in the walkway rush are guys right off the mats in their wrestling warm-ups, their school colors. It’s a uniform of pride.

Pinched-faced guys, beat up guys, a group of young men sharing the same recent experience mingle in the crowd. They walk the glass walls of the Coliseum in a daze with the Willamette River and Portland skyline warping and bending like a dream.

Win or lose, it’s their time.

Inside the bowl the scene resembles an Occupy Wrestling camp. People hunker down in clumps of family and school. One tough guy shares a moment in the stands, hugging his grandpa and his dad. When he leaves, the two men hug it out. Wrestling does that, brings families together. None of the men looked like huggers, either. Bear-huggers, yes, but huggers from the heart, too.

With twelve mats of wrestlers and referees flying around at once, cheers erupt from every section of the Coliseum bowl. Wrestling crowds don’t roar as one, just when their guys come up.

Kids down on the mats can’t hear much, but the rest of the audience feel the small cheers. It’s the same as their cheer, coming from a place other sports find impossible to access. Waves of clustered emotions rise and fall, circling the arena over sleeping bags and food.

A voice from the gods cuts through every distraction with ominous match announcements, “One hundred and eighty two pounders, your time is coming.” They find their mat, wrestle, then take another nap, a snack, then another nap.

After years of wrestling trips, some sports fans never return to a big tournament. They’ve done their time and this is the end, but memories from 2012 will stay fresh:

- arms that look like they have two elbows.

- guys racing on the mat to wrap their ankle colors and take their spot first, then making every psych-move possible before the first whistle.

- the guy who ran the Wrestling Mile, four laps on the sides of his shoes before scoring off a front headlock, looking like Curley from the Three Stooges spinning on his shoulder.

- a cradle stretch where two guys must have five shoes on because people don’t bend enough for one foot to stick up like it is.

More important than an event, the Oregon State High School Wrestling Championships reaffirm the bedrock foundation of sports and sports fans. If you scan a program for returning champs you find their teammates ranked high in weight classes near them. It’s a good sign.

The lesson? Working with better guys makes you better. Take that idea to college and you won’t need to call Helicopter-Parent to the rescue.

The bigger lesson? Hang out with decent people and be decent. Be responsible for your actions. That’s all sport asks.

The last school sanctioned matches make way for the Olympic Style wrestling season. Winning state titles in folk style, Greco-Roman, and freestyle the same year earns the distinction of winning Oregon wrestling’s mythical Triple Crown. Has a nice ring to it.

Oregon‘s Triple Crown. Only the best of the best win one. For everyone else, it’s a far away goal growing more distant.

Since the University of Oregon stopped their program, the best wrestlers in the state have only one NCAA D-1 wrestling school to attend. One is not enough. Oregon State needs Oregon to balance the sports rivalry. Ducks crush in football, Beavers crush in wrestling, like winning the PAC-12 this week for the second time in three years.

Oregon schools need each other the same as Iowa needs Iowa State and Oklahoma needs Oklahoma State.

The OSU Cowboys and Oregon compare well to each other. T. Boone Pickens and Phil Knight each focus resources in similar fashion and achieve similar results. BCS Championships will come to each school, but only one qualifies for the mythical Gladiator Award given for winning national titles in D-1 football and wrestling the same year.

The state of Oklahoma won it in 1949-55-56 with Sooner football and Oklahoma A&M wrestling, again in 1983 with Sooner football and Cowboy wrestling. Oklahoma University won both in 1974.

The state of Oregon deserves a chance if UO makes it happen.

Fans everywhere agree that Oregon football brings a unique style to the game. Resurrecting Oregon Wrestling goes one better with a trademark of their own, the Duck-Under.

No school in the world can lay that claim, and no school is closer to Nike. Seeing the Swoosh as a major sponsor for high school wrestling brings Oregon that much closer. Athletes from the podium at Memorial Coliseum stand ready to help the dream come true.

About Arran Gimba

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