Hitting the Road with F&M Wrestling

Hitting the Road with F&M Wrestling

Tim Jackson, the Head Editor of the school newspaper, has agreed to join the wrestling program for a season-long series of articles highlighting the program and it's wrestlers through stories from both on and off the mat.  Tim has put together an extensive series of article topics. Below we skip ahead to the seventh article in the series.

I knew nothing of wrestling when I first arrived at F&M. My small high school of just over 300 kids didn't have enough interest to support a wrestling program. It had been disbanded in the 1980s when the team couldn't field one wrestler in every weight class. When the "thirds" soccer team fields three times as many players as the varsity wrestling squad, that's when it is clear the time has come.

Because of this rather unfortunate state of affairs, I was eager to learn more about this sport. As far as I knew, the sport was more or less what my best friend and I did on "play dates" when we were six and seven years old. Any strategy, planning, or training that went into the preparation for a wrestling match was lost on me. It was a sport I would oftentimes hear about, but could never see.

To make a long story short, when I saw my first wrestling match as a sophomore at F&M, I was hooked. Unfortunately, I had chosen the final home match that year to be my first, so I had to wait quite awhile before I had the opportunity to watch another one. I went to every home match junior year, and it did nothing but increase the my interest in the sport. I started writing articles for The College Reporter, F&M's student newspaper, and that eventually landed me this gig with the wrestling team at the start of my senior year. I had never seen a wrestling match two and a half years ago. Now I can't get enough of it.

Still, something was missing. Because of F&M's size, it cannot host any tournaments. There just is not enough space in the Mayser Gymnasium. When I agreed to write articles for the wrestling team throughout the 2011-2012 season, there was one article I really wanted to write. I wanted to chronicle the wrestling experience of being on the road and going to a tournament. Yes, I figured this would be an interesting article, but at the same time, I really wanted to hit the road and experience a wrestling tournament for the first time.

Below is a running diary. A blow-by-blow account of what happened on my first ever trip to a wrestling tournament when I tagged along with the wrestling program on their trip to the Navy Classic. I learned a lot about the sport and I hope that is reflected in my notes below.

Friday, 6:30 p.m.: I arrive at the Mayser Center, having sprinted from the library after printing out 75 pages of reading for the paper I have due Monday. I make it down the wrestling room and then move on out to the vans with the rest of the team. I hop on the second van in line, driven by Coach Greennberg. Matt Latessa, Matt Fullowan, Austin Glessner, Alex Henry, and Eric Norgard were in the van as well.

7:00 p.m.: We're off! In two hours, we'll be in Annapolis, Maryland for the Navy Classic. Having never seen the campus or the city of Annapolis, having the opportunity to see both was an added bonus for me. Prior to the trip, everyone kept telling me how beautiful bother were, which only served to heighten my anticipation a little more.

9:00 p.m.: The team arrives at the O'Callaghan hotel. This being the first overnight trip I have ever taken with a sports team at F&M, I was a little unsure about what the accommodations would be like. I was definitely pleasantly surprised. Very nice hotel right in the center of the city. Couldn't ask for much more.

Side note: Latessa made the interesting observation that, in general, the nicer the hotel, the worse the TV. Not that I was really watching any TV on this trip, but he's right. Thinking back to my hotel experiences, the only time I have ever had a plasma screen TV in my room was when I stayed in a La Quinta in Andover, Massachusetts. Latessa is on to something here.

9:30 p.m.: I realize I have forgotten my phone charger. Surprisingly, this will end up being noteworthy.

10:30 p.m.: Lights out. With a 6 a.m. wake up call just around the corner, I wanted to hit the sack early. The only people in college I know who can wake up this early and not complain about it are the wrestlers. They work out this early almost every day. Thankfully, my 5:45 a.m. wake up calls for my summer job prepared me for this.

Saturday, 1:15 a.m.: Wake up call number one. Glessner, my roommate, instinctively wakes up and starts getting dressed. He is utterly shocked when I tell him that it's only 1:15, and that he should probably go back to sleep.

3:30 a.m.: Wake up call number two. I answer the phone, and no one responds. Glessner never woke up for this one, and it's a good thing I looked at the clock before waking him up. Back to sleep.

6:45 a.m.: After receiving no wake up call when we actually were supposed to, Glessner and I fly out of bed and race downstairs only to realize we have missed the team bus. Normally, I don't trust wake up calls, so I always set my phone alarm just to be safe. I would have done so this time around, however, since I forgot my phone charger, my phone did not have enough battery to last through the night. If I learned one thing on this trip, it's that all my skepticism when it comes to wake up calls is true.

7:15 a.m.: Glessner and I realize we'll have to wait for the shuttle bus to get us to Navy. The first one is at 9:30, which will get us there just in time for the start of the tournament.

9:30 a.m.: No shuttle.

9:40 a.m.: Still no shuttle.

9:50 a.m.: No shuttle, but by now we have hailed a cab and are on our way down to the tournament.

10:10 a.m.: We arrive just after the national anthem. After finding the F&M wrestling crew, I finally have an opportunity to take in my surroundings. The Naval Academy truly is an awesome campus. The athletic center where the tournament is located has a glass wall overlooking the river and the colorful trees on the other side. Walking to the athletic center, I notice the beautiful stone buildings and the well-manicured grounds. It met the expectations I had set prior to the trip, based solely on the reviews of the wrestlers who had been there before. I'm just disappointed I didn't get to see more of it. It really was the only disappointing thing for me the entire trip. I'd love to go back and take a tour of the campus, just so I can see everything.

Inside the building, a constant buzz is present. Four mats are set up next to one another, and there are four matches going on simultaneously. This is more or less how the entire afternoon went. Matches were going off in rapid-fire succession, with little time being wasted between them. Along with F&M, Navy, West Virginia, Bucknell, Gardner-Webb, George Mason, and The Citadel were all represented. I find a place to drop my stuff, and begin walking up and down the mats, taking everything in.

10:45 p.m.: I'm watching a match between the 125-pounders. One is from Navy and the other is from West Virginia. At school, when I am at wrestling matches, I am almost always with friends. While not a bad thing, most of them are there for friends and not for the match itself. As a result, when their friend isn't actually on the mat, they spend more time talking than watching, which makes it a little tough to focus on the wrestling.

With nobody around to distract me, I notice for the first time just how much thought goes into each move. Disregarding the preparation that goes into every match before a wrestler even steps foot on the mat, I was impressed with how calculated each move was. It truly is a thinking man's sport. Regardless of whether or not I was watching an F&M wrestler, I was enthralled by what I was taking in.

11:30 p.m.: Perhaps in part because I am naturally attracted to anything competitive, by this point in the morning I was enthralled by just about every match I saw. However, this wrestling thing is without a doubt leaving its impression on me. I have always been a football and basketball kind of guy, rarely missing any New England Patriots, Boston Celtics, or Duke Blue Devils basketball game. This is something I could definitely see myself following for the rest of my life.

12 p.m.: Admittedly, I am not sure if this is the exact time this event occurred, but it's close enough. As I am wandering back and forth between mats, I always tried to keep an eye out for when an F&M wrestler is about to start wrestling. I noticed David Pucci is about a minute into his match. I squeeze myself in between two Bucknell parents, making the experience of watching Pucci wrestle Bucknell's Doug Kellermeyer somewhat interesting.

Now, I am not one to feel embarrassed about who I am rooting for. After all, I have worn Red Sox jerseys in Yankee Stadium, Duke shirts at North Carolina Chapel Hill, and went to a Philadelphia 76ers-Oklahoma City Thunder game completely decked out in Celtics gear. I plan on wearing a Patriots jersey to the New England-Philadelphia game next week. With all this in mind, I had little trouble showing some excitement when Pucci won his first career match, despite standing amidst a throng of Bucknell fans.

Not only was it a good match, but also the look on Pucci's face was priceless. Not in the really funny way, but in the that's what is awesome about sports kind of way. It was raw emotion. I remember when Adam Vinatieri kicked the game winning field goal to beat the Rams in the Super Bowl in 2001 and I remember when Keith Foulke and the 2004 Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino. Seeing Pucci's face was like that. For the people who know him, have talked with him, and understand what he is all about, this was a truly special moment.

1:30 p.m.: Break time. This was about the only ten or 15 minutes where the wrestling action stopped. I'm sure everyone needed a bit of a breather, but I was personally itching to see some more wrestling.

2:45 p.m.: Colin Ely really is exciting to watch. He did lose in this particular match, but even when he was down with 30 seconds remaining in his match, I was convinced he was going to pull some magical move out from his arsenal and pin his opponent. I have seen him do it before, and although it didn't happen this time around, he does it enough that you have to at least think it's possible every time he steps on the mat. While the coaching staff may wish he was a bit more conservative at times, Ely is a fan favorite. Watching Ely wrestle is like watching Justin Verlander pitch or Aaron Rodgers play quarterback. At any give moment, something memorable might happen.

3:15 p.m.: Standing along the guardrail separating the fans from the mats, I realize I am suddenly surrounded by heavyweights. George Mason's heavyweight is about five feet away, F&M's Henry is standing right behind me, and Bucknell's heavyweight is talking to his coach about basically right next to me. At six feet two inches and over two hundred pounds, I generally consider myself to be a big guy. I'm not.

4:00 p.m.: Talking to Pucci about the tournament, he tells me he has wrestled three times within two hours. For starters, there has been so much going on all at once that I barely noticed he wrestled two other times. But, more importantly, I am very impressed with how well conditioned these athletes are. It's one thing to wrestle once a night during a dual match. But to wrestle at least three times in one afternoon? I've run multiple marathons in my life and even I cannot think about how well conditioned one has to be to have sustained success in a tournament like this.

4:15 p.m.: F&M has four wrestlers in the fifth/sixth place finals matches, and they're all on the same mat. How convenient.

5:30 p.m.: Although every wrestler in the finals had some memorable moments, watching Latessa was particularly thrilling for me. I noticed he likes to pick people up and throw them to the match. George Mason's Coriston Smith looked like the green bean bag chair in my room. To make it comfortable, I always pick it up and throw it to the ground, and then I just jump on it, usually ending up on my stomach. If it ever gets uncomfortable, I just repeat the process. Latessa's match went something like that.

Later on, Henry pinned Hunter Manspile of George Mason to come in fifth. I was down on the floor to watch his match, and when the combined weight of Henry and Manspile hit the floor, I could've sworn a small earthquake hit Annapolis.

6:00 p.m.: We're off. I had an awesome experience, and the tournament was everything I thought it was going to be. Even a little more, in some respects. I'm already eager to hit the road again, and I can't wait until F&M starts wrestling at home so I can start going to matches on a regular basis again.

6:30 p.m.: For what seems like the umpteenth time since the trip started, Fullowan pulls out the, "You're a wizard, Harry" line. I'm not sure how this fits in with everything, but he said it a lot, so it must.

7:00 p.m.: Most expensive Burger King trip ever.

9:00 p.m.: Back on campus. It's been quite a trip. I loved every minute of it, and I cannot wait to go back. I'm already going over my schedule to find another road trip that works.

I may have never seen a wrestling match before I arrived at F&M, but I now feel like I've seen almost everything there is to see. I love what I see and, while I loved every moment of my high school experience, I can't help but wish that I went to there back in the 80s. Then I wouldn't have had to wait so long.