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High school wrestling in Poway, California is a calling. It’s the same calling kids felt in North Bend, in Newberg, Crater, Roseburg, and Burns, Oregon.


Call it tradition, or answering a challenge, just don’t make the mistake of calling it less than what it is. All Poway High School wants is all you’ve got. Actually, that’s all any high school wrestling team wants.


It’s not much of a stretch to say that’s all everyday asks of us, too. But start with Poway.


Giving it everything you’ve got is one thing, having a coach who knows what to do with everything given completes the circuit.


Over time the wrestling culture deepens with former competitors returning to check up on the progress. Poway progress is a beautiful thing to watch until your team faces off against them.


What happens if you do have a team competing against Poway?


I spent ten days in San Diego with high school wrestlers. I saw two tournaments in California style. Poway showed up for the second tournament.


The first weekend I wasn’t sure what to expect. I showed up, took a seat in the stands, and watched my guys get after it. They did what second and third year wrestlers do, won a few, lost a few.


The man I sat near had a kid in the tournament. We talked about his wrestling journey, where it might end up.


His kid slammed an opponent toward the end of the tournament and got disqualified. The man next to me went a little crazy, which is normal for a non-wrestling dad. When he found out the loss cost his kid’s team the tournament title, he raised the crazy fan bar high enough to warrant a talk from a school principal.


I scooted away enough to show I wasn’t with him, always a sure move. Crazed sports fans can become unmanageable and lash out.


Instead, the team coach went on the unmanageable side and got evicted from the gym and the building. So much for laid back California, it wasn’t happening in a wrestling gym.


Over the ten days I harped on my guys to stay in their stance, keep contact, and grab their opponents with intention. They learned the 1, 2, 3 of moving from wrist to elbow to shoulder and how to work each phase; how to post a two on one to their opponent’s knee and hook a single; how to underhook and sweep the foot. Normal wrestling stuff, right?


I mixed in arm drag drills, trips, and a couple of throws along with video of Rick Sanders in the ’72 Olympics, his teammate Wayne Wells, and heavyweight Chris Taylor’s heroic launch.


Back in 1972 we didn’t have easy access to video like now. I enjoy watching them as if for the first time. Sanders was an artist on the mat, Wells was all grit, and Taylor? His 450 pound body helped put a 285 lb limit on the heavyweights.


The second weekend in San Diego my guys had a dual meet tournament that included Poway. They weren’t scheduled on the same bracket so I got to watch what the #2 team in all of California looked like on the mat. I’d heard about them, now I’d get to see them.


Their dual meet ended 77-0 with all pins except one decision. Those guys stayed in their stance, kept contact, and showed the sort of strength and conditioning of college teams. Their skill levels matched their strength and conditioning as they wrestled about three moves ahead of their opponents.


Poway displayed the sort of awesomeness you hope to find in any sporting event at any level. Masters of the mat. Their knowledge and confidence never slipped into rude cockiness which was refreshing.


What wasn’t refreshing was the same coach who got tossed the week before pulled his team after their first dual. They got on the bus and left. Their next opponents all won by forfeit as one by one they names were called and arms raised in the center of a mat.


My guys handled their business and I went home. Later in the evening we all watched Vision Quest after one of them asked if I knew of a wrestling movie.


“There’s only one wrestling movie with Madonna, so there’s only one wrestling movie,” I said.


We watched it together. After a hard day at a high school wrestling tournament the kids watched a movie about high school wrestling, about making weight, about seeking a better identity. I sort of felt like I was in another movie about high school wrestling, maybe a documentary. I was proud of them for hanging tough when they could have just as easily quit.


One of the highlights of the ten days was spending a few hours with a man I coached on rec league teams.


“What would you say is one of the most important characteristics, or preparation, for your job?” I asked.


“Wrestling,” he said without pause. “9 out of 10 guys in my community were high school wrestlers.”


What’s his community? Force Recon Marines.


“Is that how you made it?” I asked.


“Look, it’s a process that breaks you down and makes you quit, or want to quit. Most do quit. What I figured out is the mental part, and it comes from wrestling. Don’t quit today, quit tomorrow. Then tomorrow, promise to quit the next day, and eventually you get over the notion of quitting as an option,” he said.


Works for me. Does it work for you? Poway didn’t have any quit in them. Neither did Vision Quest. Neither will you.
About David Gillaspie

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