Nothing compares to wrestling. There’s the spandex. And the physical demands. And the mental drain. And the meals (or lack thereof). And repeated head-banging against mats.
“It takes a different kind of person; we’re probably a little crazy,” said Gilbert Higley 189-pound senior Nick Serrano.
What do outsiders see in wrestling?
What do wrestlers see in wrestling?
The Tribune spent a week finding out, and when entering their world, don’t tread unprepared.
“Once in a while you’ll hear someone in the stands say, 'Why are they wearing spandex and wrestling with other men?’” Tempe Corona del Sol junior heavyweight Trevor Stapp said.
We say: They leave way too little to the imagination, but we figure teenagers who like spandex are a different sort to begin with, and since they’re in better physical condition than Joe Schmo could dream about, we’re fine with that.
Wrestlers say: Most said they were self-conscious about singlets back in seventh or eighth grade, but since everyone else had to wear them, it quickly became a nonissue. Most actually find them comfortable.
Few wrestlers in the heavier weight classes are cheerleaders for singlets. Since spandex clings to bare skin like leeches, coverage areas get squeezed.
“When you first put it on it’s awkward,” said Stapp, who weighs about 50 pounds less than most of his opponents.
“I haven’t gotten much positive feedback from girls about them.”
Still, since regular shorts and T-shirts could be used as leverage for opponents to grab onto, the singlet is here to stay. Under Armour, an athletic clothing company, has started producing undersleeve wear, similar to biking shorts. Whether it takes hold in wrestling fashion remains to be seen, but there’s no substitute for spandex on the horizon.
Dobson, for example, purchased new singlets for the team this year.
“I remember these guys in seventh grade, it freaked them out,” said former Dobson wrestler and current Mustangs coach Steve Tannenbaum.
In time, they grew accustomed, which is good, because the clinginess will continue.
“It’s either wear clothes and have them get caught up and twisted around,” Corona senior Andrew Moses said. “Or do it like the Romans did and go naked, but I don’t think that’s school-appropriate either.”
We say: As two-word phrases go, it doesn’t conjure pleasantness. And you’re not missing out aesthetically either.
Wrestlers say: Do what it takes.
None of the half-dozen wrestling programs we surveyed use a spit bucket with any regularity during the week. Most use a water fountain or garbage can.
But during and after the most exhausting six minutes in any sport, with bodies flying and twisting, there’s likely to be some blood. If a match is particularly grueling or a wrestler made a dietary mistake before the match, what went down may come back up.
Pity the cleaning crew.
“It can get gross,” Marcos de Niza coach Jim Weed said.
Though they are in the minority, some wrestlers will constantly spit in an attempt to lose another couple ounces to make weight before matches.
Dobson junior Cody Lewis (135 pounds) said he did it once during a trip to Las Vegas last year but said he hasn’t done it since.
The practice is still done as a way to make weight, and it’s not against any rules, but most wrestlers and coaches said if they see anyone trying to lose weight, a stern lecture is upcoming.
“It makes us look ridiculous and like what everybody thinks of a wrestler, that they’re just stupid and brawny,” Moses said.
We say: Blech.
Wrestlers say: Blech.
Sometimes it’s unavoidable. There’s plenty of bacteria festering during skin-on-skin contact while rolling around on mats that others have walked on. There are kids who don’t keep themselves clean enough.
Ringworm and Impetigo are the two most common skin ailments. Both are contagious.
And no, those with ringworm do not have a worm inside them.
These ailments usually manifest themselves at tournaments, with so many wrestlers and watchers.
The most scrutinized case came at the state tournament two years ago, when six wrestlers were not allowed to compete after the on-site doctor ruled they had skin irritations that could be contagious, even though each wrestler had clearance notes from one or two other doctors.
Sanitation has been taken up a notch recently. Teams scrub down their mats before and after practices, and there are lectures about proper cleanliness.
“You can probably lick food off our mats,” Corona del Sol coach Dave Vibber said.
Ultimately, it’s up to the kids to scrub hard and seek immediate treatment if they notice something unusual on their skin.
Most of them do. The idea of red rashes and contagious infections makes them paranoid, even if prevention is a tough sell.
“Lots of kids will take their shirt and throw it in their locker, forget a shirt two days later for practice, and that one’s sitting at the bottom of the locker,” Tannenbaum said. “At that point the shirt can stand up on its own.”
We say: Just watching a workout is exhausting.
Wrestlers say: Watching? Try doing.
Typically, wrestlers have 2½-hour practices after school, a mix of teaching, conditioning and weight lifting.
Often the toughest part of practices are the simulated matches with each other, ranging from six minutes to as long as 15 minutes.
All told, it’s two-hour practices, five to six times per week.
Nobody likes them. They just learn to deal.
“The more you put on your body, the more pain you can pass on,” said Dobson’s Steve Hawkins, who wrestles at 119 pounds.
Except for those six-minute matches, the pain is self-inflicted.
“Six minutes doing anything doesn’t seem too hard, except it’s like sprinting as hard as you can for six minutes, with a five-second rest every two minutes,” Serrano said.
Serrano also plays football for the Knights, but there’s no comparison.
“I’d say playing two or three consecutive football games equals one wrestling match,” he said after wrestling nine matches in two days at the Payson Invitational.
It’s because of these workouts that wrestlers hold peers in high esteem. It’s one of the reasons you won’t see grapplers talk trash to one another. They all go through the same pains and gains together.
“Wrestling is a physical and mental challenge. I have so much respect for kids who do it — and whole-heartedly,” Tannenbaum said. “It’s not comparable to any other type of sport. It’s hard-core. The kids that do it, you have to respect it, win, lose or draw.”
We say: If there are two to three hours of workouts, then chow down.
Wrestlers say: Not exactly. Some can get away with eating a candy bar and drinking sodas before matches.
Most, however, either learned the hard way (getting sick), or simply avoid temptations during wrestling season.
Getting teenagers to avoid junk food while watching their friends gorge could be classified as cruel and unusual punishment.
“It’s weird because you’re at school with friends who aren’t wrestlers, you have to settle for chicken salad and not the pizza and tacos your friends are eating,” Serrano said. “You have to wait until the season ends to pig out. You try but you can’t eat as much because your stomach shrunk.”
To curb the made-for-TV stereotypes of starving wrestlers, the National Federation for Wrestling passed a rule stating that wrestlers can’t lose any more than 1.5 percent of their body weight per week, which means a 100-pound person can’t lose more than 1.5 pounds in a week.
Wrestlers have to be within one pound of their weight class, so skipping a meal is common, but they’re not all eating celery and water.
Subway and Chipotle are hot spots for East Valley wrestlers; the protein-carbohydrate combination helps gain muscle and provide energy. So do cereal, pasta, lots of meat, Gatorade and protein bars.
“I ate (Chipotle) 45 days in a row and gained 10 pounds of muscle,” Moses said.
Most wrestlers and coaches agreed the key was eating five small meals a day, no soda or excess sugar, no late-night snacks and no gorging.
“It’s part of the discipline of the sport,” Tannenbaum said. “It’s hard enough when you’re in perfect shape doing everything right, so why make it even more difficult by eating the wrong things?”
So why do kids do this?
There are no million-dollar salaries, endorsements or TV exposure.
There are only one-on-one battles, where the thrills are purely internal.
Stapp: “If you lose there’s no one else to blame but yourself. If you win, you’ve won the test of integrity and pride.”
A couple of years ago, Vibber made silk-screen T-shirts of a referee holding up a wrestler’s arm with a slogan:
“Now you know.”