Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Giant of a Man!

For young men trying to leave their mark on life, there’s something about creating memories that they can brag about as old men. I don’t know that Scott Pierce and I qualify as old men yet, but the following story certainly qualifies as one of those events, which only occur because of the wild enthusiasm and naive optimism of youth.

Scott was my roommate in college and one of my best friends in life. He was amazingly athletic. He had all the physical tools to play football--size, strength, speed and agility. Not surprisingly, Scott received a scholarship to play football at Ricks. He played tight end both before and after his mission. Scott had the athletic ability to do just about any sport. In high school he chose to play football, basketball and threw the discus in track.

During the Christmas break following our missions, we were invited to snowmobile with his fiancee, Coya Hillam and her family in Island Park, Idaho. I realized there was a freestyle wrestling tournament with an opportunity to wrestle in the open division in nearby Idaho Falls the same weekend. I proposed to Scott that we wrestle in the tournament on our way to the Hillam’s cabin. Scott seemed doubtful about my proposal.

“This is crazy. I haven’t wrestled since junior high school.”

“Yea, but you’re the man! You’re a total specimen. You’re the kind of athlete that could know almost nothing and still win matches.”

“I don’t know man. This seems kind of crazy. Do you think they’ll be anyone good in this tournament?”

“Doubtful. The Heavyweight class is always an easy weight class. There will probably be a couple of soft ‘has been’ former high school wrestlers. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”

“I don’t know. It seems a little crazy.”

“Listen, life’s short. When we’re old men, don’t you want to have something really cool to talk about?! This is a real chance to hang it all out and do something crazy.”

In the end, Scott agreed. He weighed about 220 lbs. back in 1978, which placed him in the Heavyweight division. This was in the day before the weight restriction of 275lbs for heavyweight wrestlers. It was not uncommon to see heavyweight wrestlers in excess of 400 lbs.

Upon arrival we heard rumor that a representative wrestler from USA Wrestling would be present to conduct a pre-match clinic to review the new freestyle rules. I was thrilled to learn that we would get to meet and talk with Olympian Jimmy Jackson, a former 3x NCAA Champion from Oklahoma State University. Jackson was a massive man—standing 6’6” and weighing 375lbs when he was in shape. Jackson had wrestled in the 1976 Montreal Olympics and it was clear that he was not in shape when we met him in 1978--he was clearly well over 400lbs.

What none of us knew at the outset was that Jackson intended to wrestle in the open division as a heavyweight wrestler. Upon hearing this, I was ecstatic to see him wrestle; Scott less so. "What if I draw him my first match?" He asked. "What are the chances of that? Brother, that's just fear talking. Besides you're the man!" I assured him. As luck would have it, Scott, in fact, drew Jackson his first match. I tried to convince Scott that he had a chance. I lied. I reviewed with him an arm drag and explained that he might be able to use his superior speed to get behind Jackson. (Scott was very quick.) I told Scott that Jackson was clearly out of shape and that he might be able to take him down. Again, I lied.

The time for the match came. Scott had diligently drilled the arm drag technique that I had shown him. He was primed and ready. He stepped out onto the mat. I was yelling encouraging words—not really believing anything I was saying. Jackson looked ginormous. Scott? Well, he looked like a shrimp, even though he was a very athletic 6’2” and 220lbs. To say this match was representative of "David and Goliath" would be an understatement. The whistle blew. The crowd was shocked—Scott exhibited cat-like speed and flawlessly executed the arm drag we had drilled. It was amazing. Everyone in the gym gasped. "Who is this undersized white guy on the verge of taking down a world class wrestler twice his size?!" Scott got beyond Jackson; however, no sooner had he done so he realized he was matched against something akin to a Grizzly bear. He could barely wrap his arms around Jackson. His eyes became the size of saucers when he realized there was no way that he could take Jackson to the mat despite taking his back. “Take him down! Take him down! I screamed. “Lift him off the mat! What are you waiting for?!” He tried in vain to lift Jackson off his feet. Nothing. Jackson was squatting and moving his hips down and away. In this position he was simply too massive to lift. Suddenly, Jackson reached behind him and with one paw pulled Scott in front of him like he was a rag doll. Jackson then put Scott in a double-over throw position. Now I was fearful for my friend's safety. What had I done?! Jackson executed a world class back suplay landing with all of his weight on Scott’s chest. It was beautiful! I have never seen such a behemoth of a man move so gracefully. It was poetry on the mat. (Sorry Scott.)

Now this maneuver would have likely dispatched a mere mortal man, but Scott somehow survived. He fought valiantly for almost a minute. It was only after Jackson’s massive 400lb+ frame completed buried Scott and his limbs were no longer moving, that the official called a presumptive pin. I use the word "presumptive" because the official could not confirm whether Scott’s shoulders were pinned to the mat. Scott was completely buried beneath the mass of human flesh that was Jimmy Jackson. He nevertheless mercifully called an end to the match based exclusively upon the fact that Scott was no longer moving.

Since this match, Scott has alleged that I provided expert coaching during the match. This assertion is false. I was mostly laughing hysterically. I wanted to provide aid and comfort to my friend in need, but in the end all I could do was laugh. Every detail of this story is accurate. If Scott disputes it, I can only assume it’s because his lost consciousness sometime during the match.

Regardless of how one remembers the details of this match, on one cold December day back in 1978 a "giant of a man", my good friend Scott Pierce (despite being undersized, outclassed and under-skilled) courageously took on a Olympian that looked more like a Grizzly bear and survived; and now has a story worthy of the ages. Thank you Scott for having the courage to attempt the impossible and for allowing me to share in this experience!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Is Choking Your Opponent REALLY Illegal?

Occasionally, while wrestling a tough opponent in college I was known to slip in a little choke in an attempt to convince my opponent that I was not some chump to be trifled with. Although I was never penalized for this, I was clearly caught in the act in the picture above which appeared in the school newspaper following a very tough match with UofU's Dave Millay. I can't say that my "little choking" turned the match in my favor, but I'm pretty sure it didn't hurt my chances of winning either. I have never thought of this "minor infraction" of the rules as unethical...that is until last year, when one of our young high school wrestlers was at my house watching a UFC fight and noticed this picture in my den, and asked:

"Hey coach, isn't choking in wrestling illegal?"


"Aren't you choking your opponent in that picture?"


"Isnt' that illegal?'


"Then why are you doing it?"

"Because Millay was a very tough wrestler, and I had to be tougher."

"Isn't that cheating? I thought you were an honest person?"

Silence... Ouch! (Mental note to self: This wrestler needs to be punished for certain next year for asking smart-alecky questions and openly challenging one of his coaches.)

"Good question. However, I'm pretty sure that choking your opponent in wrestling is only slightly illegal. It's not like taking steroids, is it?"

More silence. Double ouch! As I reflected further about this conversation, the following thoughts passed through my brain: Clearly steroids are illegal from a criminal standpoint. Choking your opponent?...Well it's a mere violation of the rules. It's not like choking is a crime--at least it's not a crime if you're on a wrestlng mat when you choke someone! Conclusion: choking is not a criminal assault if you are on a wrestling mat. Okay, I'm comfortable with this distinction: Choke someone on a wrestling mat and you might win an important match. Perfect! Choke someone on the street and you go to jail. Stupid! Another note to self: Make sure all choking occurs on a wrestling mat. Somehow all of this made sense to me as I initially worked through this ethical question, although now as I speak the words, my logic feels a little strained. What do you think?

So...I decided to seek some enlightenment from my Vast World Wide Readership. The question is really rather simple: Is it ethical to choke your opponent while wrestling? Yes or No?

The following rhetorical questions might help guide your thinking:

-Isnt' this akin to fouling your opponent in basketball until the official starts calling the foul?

-Is it similar to trying to time the starting gun in track to get the jump on your opponent?

-Isn't it similar to an offensive lineman holding to protect his quarterback?

-What if it's a really important match and choking will help you win?

-Is it unethical if it's just a little choke?

-Is any degree of choking unfair?

-Does it matter how long you choke your opponent?

-If it only causes pain and your opponent doesn't start to pass out, is that acceptable?

-Does it matter how many times you choke your opponent?

-Or how hard to you choke him?

-Does the degree to which you feel malice (or not) factor in to how culpable you are?

-Is choking per se cheating, in the same way taking Steroids is considered cheating?

-What if you feel no shame or guilt when you choke someone? Doesn't sin require a recognition that you are doing something wrong? If you don't recognize it as unethical, is it?

Please weigh in on this most interesting ethical question on the poll at the top of my blog.

And to think there are those who say Wrestling is a barbaric sport with no gentlemanly thought. Ha!

Below are newspaper pictures of me wrestling Nebraska's captain Billy Selmon and BYU's Matt Bake. You will note that I am wrestling cleanly (at least in the pictures) and still managed to win both of these matches.