(from last December)
Last night was our local HS’s first home wrestling meet. I went even though I don’t have anyone the team. My friend’s son is a Senior and I remember a couple of away tourneys where they stayed until the finals to cheer Trev on even though their son was out early. They could’ve headed home and gained some extra time but they stayed to cheer him on. So this year I’ll go to as many home meets as I can and cheer Aaron on. They had to work the ticket table so I stood inside the doorway sipping my coffee and watching the people settle in. I’ve never noticed the seating patterns before, probably because I was part of it. But last night I was just a fan, no longer a wrestling parent or booster club member, just a spectator.
The middle section of the bleachers is mostly all parents and families of wrestlers. A sea of blue and black. We always did our best shirt sales to the JV parents. They’ll buy anything to support their school colors. I know, I myself had an entire wardrobe. Even though they sit as one, they’re divided into two sections. You can tell the JV parents from the Varsity parents. The Varsity parents are the loudest. Laughing and talking, the men about wrestling of course and the women about anything but wrestling. Mom nerves are pretty bad at the beginning of the season. They have inside jokes and a comfortable ease with each other. They greet each other by name an share that bond already.
Behind them are the JV parents. They’re quieter because they really don’t know each other yet. They will soon enough. First comes the remembering of names and which kid goes to which parents. Then after a few months of hour after hour of sitting together in gyms the conversation will flow. They’ll learn who can be teased and who you never poke.You learn who to sit near for the best baked goods and who yells the loudest (it used to be me). You have silly nicknames for each other’s kids and road trip horror stories that some how end up being part of the fun. It takes a little time and a lot really bad coffee to properly bond.
The far end of the bleachers is all students. At the top the older youth wrestlers, old enough now to not sit with their parents and young enough to be in awe of the boys older than them. They giggle and make frequent tripsto the bathroom and snack bar.
A row or two down are the modified boys. Most still in shirt and tie from their own meets. Even though they know the youth squad they pointedly ignore them and kind of hover near the Varsity boys, their friends, and their girlfriends.
The Varsity team is too damn cool for eye contact or conversation with their parents. They sit together a with their friends and girlfriends around them. The “no girlfriend’ rule was made for my oldest (for good reason) and discontinued when he graduated. But the girlfriends still respect the team space and gladly sit in front of or behind their wrestler. The boys laugh at the JV during their meet and make little comments, forgetting how much those comments can hurt. Some comments are harsh (but usually true) and the good comments can make a kid soar. A “nice match” from a Varsity starter can make the smallest of wrestlers feel huge. Tradition says someday those JV wrestlers will be the comment makers and the chain will always continue.
Halfway through the JV match the Varsity Coach stands up and walks toward the door, he is soon followed by his team and the modified boys slide quickly down to the vacated seats. As the Varsity takes the mat to warm up the modified are relegated to their original seats and the JV start wandering out from the locker room with half buttoned dress shirts and wet hair. The JV is a much more parent friendly group. They can actually eat food and mom and dad are usually holding the money (or the food). They’ll suffer a hug if they have to, and the moms savor it because they know public hugs won’t be happening all too often in the future.
The last section of the bleachers is my new home. It’s the alumni section. All my old friends are there and we trade stories about our lives and our sons. We catch upon break ups and divorces and who’s dating who now. We see photos of grandchildren and we reminisce about when we lived wrestling 24/7. We don’t wear the blue and black anymore and we don’t all make every home meet but we’re still part of the wrestling family. Just more like a cousin twice removed. We did our time at the snack bar and the pee wee tourneys. We sat in parking lots at midnight waiting for an away bus that always was an hour late.
Once we couldn’t imagine the day when we wouldn’t spend every weekend in a gym, now we can’t imagine doing it again. Some of us do still have wrestlers. Either on college teams or in a college club but our kids are off at college so we can’t go to every match. We (and they) are okay with that.
On Christmas break all our sons will be back and they’ll go with us. They’ll do the walk of honor, nodding to wrestlers they know, shaking hands with dads and old coaches and hugging the moms. For a few, whispers will follow them. “he went to States twice” “he only lost 3 matches one year” and you can tell they hear it because they get their struts on a little.
They’ll gradually end up down with the Varsity and will lean up against the wall during warm ups and offer little tidbits of wisdom. A couple will even take off their shoes and help an old practice partner out. Sooner or later they make it back over to the far corner and will sit up there saying “remember when we”and “oh that’s nothing, once I…” while the other alumni parents and I make our promises to keep in touch better and to get together soon even though we all know we’ll just continue our pattern of home meet chat ups and saying”hi” in an aisle at WalMart or Wegmans.
It’s part of being a wrestling parent I think. Or any sport or club for that matter. You spend so much time with the other parents and for a few years they become extended family but you also gladly slide over on the bleachers when it’s time to. Even though you cheer loudly for the team it really isn’t the same. These boys aren’t your boys and once you’ve reached this end of the bleachers you stay there.
I never noticed these little sections before. Looking back now I can track my path from the outer circle of the middle all the way to where I sit now. It was a hell of a road and I loved every exciting second (mostly) but I like where I am now. I used to wonder how I’d manage without wrestling, now I know. It’s their turn now and I really don’t miss it as much as I thought I did and I really think that’s exactly how it should be.