Phil also found it satisfactory that Dan’s younger sister would be in the crowd today, to see these early-round matches. Maggie was a year behind Dan and the same age as Phil, and though Phil knew girls who were as pretty, he knew none that were nicer to be around. Plus, there was something about her that always made him breathe a bit faster, and try harder to say interesting things when he was in her presence.
Hearing his name over the loudspeakers in the gymnasium, Phil shook off this distracted reverie. During the last two seasons he had developed a habit of mumbling to himself as he walked out on the mat. "Remember," he told himself, "he's good, but everyone makes a mistake some time during a match, so just relax and wait for it."
As he drew nearer the middle of the mat, Phil looked up slightly to meet the calm gaze of the defending state champion. "Man!" he thought, "He sure looks a lot bigger than a hundred fifty-eight pounds!" Phil knew though, that they had both weighed the same, earlier that morning at weigh-in.
The referee motioned both wrestlers to the smaller circle at the center of the wrestling mat. “Shake hands and step back, wait for my signal, and stop wrestling when you hear a whistle. Good luck to you both.”
The two wrestlers shook hands and stepped back to their beginning positions. The referee looked at the scorer’s table. When he was sure that all was ready, he held his hand between them, said; “Ready?” then flicked his hand upward, and said; “Wrestle!”
Phil and his opponent circled warily for a few moments, trying to determine what style and tempo would be effective. Suddenly, the taller man reversed direction and shot quickly in to grab for Phil’s legs in an attempt to score a takedown. Phil sprawled his legs back and away, hooked his left arm through the champ’s right armpit, and used his right hand to push the other man’s head toward the mat. They were locked in that position for a long moment, neither gaining advantage over the other. Phil felt the man shifting his weight toward Phil’s left side. He followed the shift for a moment, then spun quickly to his right while letting his chest push down on the back of the defending champion’s neck and shoulders at the same time. Takedown! Phil was on top and in control, having scored two points for the takedown. He no longer thought about the identity of his opponent, as action and reaction demanded his complete attention.
The defending champ surged to his feet, and Phil went right along with him –left arm clamped around the other’s waist, right arm locked around the man’s elbow. He planted his left foot behind his opponent’s right heel and made a controlled twisting fall to the right, to pull the man backward and turn him face down on the mat as they fell. Though it was successful, Phil realized after that sequence that he was wrestling a stronger opponent, something he had rarely faced in the last year. He would have to be smart, and and hope that his quick reflexes would help him keep the lead in this match.
The champ rose back up to his knees and did a smooth sit-out maneuver for an escape. That scored one point and left the two on their feet and facing one another again. Phil moved in quickly to attempt a takedown, but before he or his opponent could gain advantage, the referee blew the whistle to signal the end of the first two-minute period.
Phil was ahead of the defending state champion by a two to one score, a third of the way into the match! He looked up to the part of the stands where he thought Maggie might be, but did not see her.
The referee pulled a large plastic coin out of his pocket. The coin was green on one side, red on the other, each side matching the color of a stretch band that was worn around the right ankle of one of the wrestlers. This was to indicate which score was which on the red and green scoreboard. He flipped the coin in the air, and it landed on the mat green side up. Phil wore the green band, so he chose the positions they would take to begin the second round.
His choice was the top position. His opponent would be on hands and knees, with Phil behind and to his right side, left arm loosely about the other man’s waist, his right hand just above the champ’s right elbow.
The referee signaled to begin the second period, “Ready? Wrestle!” The defending champion escaped quickly with the same sit-out maneuver he had used in the first period. The score was now tied at two points each. The champ moved in with a bit more caution than before, his eyes more intensely focused than at the beginning of the match.
Phil stepped in close, reached with his right hand and gripped the back of the man’s head and neck, pulling until the two were head-to-head with their temples pressing together. When the other man reached up with his own right hand to match Phil’s grip, Phil grabbed the rising elbow with his left hand and kept it moving upward. He ducked under, around and behind for control. When he again tripped the champ backward and took him to the mat, he had scored another two-point takedown.
This time, when the other man tried a sit-out to escape, Phil was ready for it. He locked his right elbow around the champ’s right arm as he scooted away, reached around and grabbed the man’s chin with his left hand, and sprawled his own legs backward for extra leverage as he pulled. He now had the champ on his back, fighting to keep from having his shoulder blades pinned to the mat for the three seconds that would count as a fall, and end the match. Phil ground his chin into the raised right shoulder of his opponent, while holding the other shoulder down with his left hand, which was around the champ’s neck. He didn’t have enough strength to complete the pin to score a fall and win, though, and the defending champion used his legs to push them both off the edge of the mat and out of bounds.
The referee blew his whistle to call time, and directed them back to the center of the mat to the starting position, with Phil again on top. On the way back to the center, Phil glanced at the scoreboard, noting that he had been awarded two points for a near-fall, and was now ahead in the match, six to two.
After checking their positions, the referee again gave the “Ready? Wrestle!” signal. This time, the other man was too quick and strong for Phil to control, he surged upward and spun, twisting around behind Phil for a two-point reversal. The referee’s whistle signaled the end of the second period.
In the third and final period, Phil would start in the bottom position. As he checked the scoreboard before settling in to the starting position, he noticed for the first time that the noise of the crowd was nearly deafening. With Phil leading the defending state champion six points to four, the crowd sensed an upset and cheered wildly. Some of them cheered for the champ, some for Phil, and some for the pure excitement of an entertaining and competitive match. Regardless of the object of the cheering, the effect was just; NOISE!
Now in position, Phil looked at the referee and nodded. His opponent took the top position, and the referee gave the start signal again.
Phil tried to stand, but the other man was fast and strong, immediately taking him back down to the mat. Phil tried a sit-out maneuver to escape, without success. He tried grasping the champ’s arm under his own and rolling for a reversal, but his opponent rolled with him all the way through the move, and was back on top. Once more, Phil tried to stand up, but this time he felt the other man quickly reach behind his head with one arm and behind his knee with the other. The arms pulled his head and his knee together and locked. Phil had fallen into a cradle hold, and was pulled over onto his back.
He kicked his legs desperately, rocking back and forth and twisting left and right, anything to keep his shoulder blades from being pinned to the mat! After a seemingly endless time, he managed to struggle and kick until he’d dragged them both to the edge of the mat and out of bounds. The referee’s whistle sounded again to stop the action, as the official raised one hand to indicate a score. Phil groaned. The three fingers held up by the referee indicated he had been on his back long enough for his opponent to be awarded a three-point near-fall. The score was now seven to six, with the defending champion in the lead, and only twenty-eight seconds left in the match!
Back in the bottom position at the center of the mat, Phil exploded to his feet with the starting signal. He strained to break away, pushing down on his opponent’s clasped hands that were around his waist, trying to break the iron-like grip that held him. The other man stayed right with him as he tried to pull away, attempting to drag Phil back down to the mat. Expending the last of his energy, Phil twisted and pulled and finally spun away, just as the final whistle blew! He looked at the referee and saw him waving off the escape; it had been too late.
Phil had lost.
The wrestlers shook hands again at the center of the mat, and the referee raised the other man’s arm to indicate the winner. Phil began to turn away, feeling bitter disappointment, when the champ reached out and grabbed his right arm to get his attention. He leaned in close to Phil’s ear, and said “Great match! No one in this region is going to want to have to face you next year!”
Walking off the mat toward where Coach stood holding his warm-up jacket, Phil realized that the crowd was still cheering wildly, as much for his own efforts as for the winner, and knew he could not be too upset. He had given the crowd a thrill, and given the defending state champion a real scare. With a wave toward the crowd acknowledging the ovation and a nod toward his parents and grandparents, Phil received his warm-up jacket from the coach, planning already for off-season workouts to prepare himself for next season.
As he swung the jacket around his shoulders, he was nearly knocked off his feet by a fast-moving Maggie, and she was hugging him with an excited smile! “I’m so proud of you!” was all he heard before she kissed him, right there in front of the coach and their parents and everybody!
This time, he didn’t even worry that he was breathing hard and wondering what to say in her presence. He felt as if he’d won next year’s championship already.
Kevin r. Carr
About 2125 Words