Joel Reichenberger: Wrestling duals a relic

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Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Joel here.

— I never competed in wrestling, but in more than six years covering the sport for newspapers, I feel like I’ve grown a healthy appreciation for it and its athletes.

There’s plenty I don’t understand, though, and that’s one of the things that stayed with me Thursday after a triangular meet that included all three Routt County high school wrestling programs.

Such triangulars and team-on-team duals are antiques in modern high school wrestling, especially in Routt County.

The Hayden High School wrestling team emerged the winner in duals against Steamboat Springs and Soroco. But those scores — that sentence even — don’t mean much of anything. Whenever one team has an athlete in a weight class and the other doesn’t, the team with the athlete wins via forfeit.

A forfeit in high school wrestling is a silly affair. The athlete who is present is fully suited out in a singlet and wrestling shoes with head gear strapped on tight before he or she walks on to the mat. The referee then lifts the competitor’s arm and presents him or her to the scorers and the crowd, declaring him or her the winner. The athlete then goes and shakes hands with the opposing coaches and returns to the bench.

I don’t for a second understand the need for the ceremony or the need for headgear for a match that’s not going to happen, but suited-out athlete after suited-out athlete trotted to the middle of the mat Thursday and was declared winner by default.

Those matches frequently decide these battles between teams, and that simply seems ridiculous. Hayden won six of eight contested matches in a Wednesday dual with Meeker but lost the dual. What?

I get the idea, and it makes me yearn to cover a wrestling meet of 40, 30 or even 15 years ago, when the sport was a bigger deal in these towns and this state and there were enough wrestlers to fill out rosters.

It’s easy to imagine the drama that would have been present in a Hayden versus Soroco matchup back then.

The schools already clash all season long: at least twice a year in volleyball and basketball, plenty of times in track and field and next year in football. Wrestling is an individual sport, but everything about it makes the matches more personal than any of those others.

Wrestlers took the mat to face off against an opponent they already were plenty familiar with from other tournaments or even friends with in the offseason. But with school and personal pride on the line, surely that all changed, and surely it all made for some incredible sports action.

That was then, though, and this is now, a time when some teams have just a few wrestlers and seemingly all teams have holes in the lineup.

Thursday night’s event still yielded some good action, and some long-held rivalries boiled near the surface, just as they should when teams from neighboring communities meet. I encourage the three locals teams to continue this annual event. I discourage them from keeping team score, though.

Unless a major local wrestling revival is around the corner, there’s really no point.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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