AFTER THE WHISTLE

What's right with wrestling

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— I can't help but wonder if new wrestling coach Jay Muhme is one of those guys who has a Rubix Cube sitting on the table next to his favorite recliner at home.

It's a strange thought, I know, but he seems like the kind of guy who embraces a challenge with a smile.

And his smile will be tested this season as Muhme takes over the Sailors wrestling program, which, by all accounts, may be at one of the lowest points in its long-running history. Gone are the days when Carl Ramunno had the wrestling room packed to capacity. Gone, too, are the countless individual state titles and the team's reputation as a squad to be feared on the mat.

Last year, the Sailors failed to send a single wrestler to the state championships in Denver and for the past several years the team has struggled to get enough wrestlers in the wrestling room to fill an entire team this year is no exception.

The team's struggles have prompted me to ask several past coaches (including Muhme when he was an assistant) and several former Steamboat Springs High School wrestling legends what is wrong with the team.

The question has led to several lengthy conversations and lots of speculation. But pinning down a reason for the decline of wrestling in Steamboat Springs isn't easy. It seems to be one of those questions with lots of easy-to-see answers but no real good solutions.

So instead of dwelling on what's wrong with the sport, I've decided to take a look at what's right with wrestling.

Traditionally, wrestling has taught its athletes a tough life lesson, filled with many hours of hard work and sacrifice. The sport teaches young men that hard work and dedication can lead to big-time rewards but not always.

It may be one of the best sports for teaching students what life will be like after they get outside the sheltered walls of the high school. Hopefully, it also teaches them how to be successful.

Unfortunately, the sport often requires athletes to abide to a strict diet and workout regiment to meet the high physical requirements it takes to win.

It's those demands that have turned many of today's young athletes away from the mats to more team-oriented sports, which may not require quite as much personal sacrifice.

But wrestling is about more than just strength.

A wrestler must be able to use his brain as well as his muscles. Split-second decisions can determine who wins and who loses on the mat.

Coaches can teach in practice and give advice between periods, but once the athlete steps onto the mat, he will determine his own future.

The sport also builds character because it is the athlete who must take the responsibility when he loses and when he wins.

There are no teammates to blame, no coaches to hide behind. Championships in wrestling are earned by the individual, but the pain of losing also falls on a single set of shoulders.

Every February the importance of wrestling can be seen on the floor of the Pepsi Center in Denver.

That's where the hours of hard work, the missed meals and the sweat of hundreds of pushups pay off with state titles and championships that will last a lifetime.

If you go to the Pepsi Center in February expecting to see what's wrong with wrestling, there is no doubt you will be disappointed.

The state championships are the place to see exactly what is right with the sport.

The challenge facing Muhme will be to bring the magic that is found on the floor of the Pepsi Center back to the wrestling room at Steamboat Springs High School. I'm sure figuring out the puzzle that sits on the table in front of his recliner, if in fact he has a puzzle in front of him, would be easier.

The Sailors' new head coach has been presented with a challenge this season to rebuild a program. But the fact is, to fix what's wrong with wrestling in Steamboat Springs he will need to rediscover what so many young athletes have proven is so right with wrestling.

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