Wrestlers’ attention pinned on state championship

Erin Schilling

Erin Schilling, Editor-in-chief

When senior Nick Martin came into school after semester break, he elicited more stares than he was used to. “I lost a lot of skin on my face,” Martin said, “so I bled a lot. I’ve been wrapped up during the past three tournaments. I’d be cradling a kid, about to pin him, then my blood would be all over him and they’d make us stand up and reset the match.”

Martin isn’t the only wrestler who faces these injuries. Between grueling practices and all-day tournaments, these athletes take a beating for their sport.

Martin’s strategy is to ignore the pain. “You don’t even feel it when you’re wrestling. You zone out in practice, and if you can’t go on autopilot, you can’t stay in the room for more than 20 minutes.”

You have to be completely devoted to it for five months.”

— Senior Nino Young

These practices don’t just last a couple months. Before tournament season is even on the calendar, wrestlers go to a camp during the summer, and the conditioning begins two months before the regular season, which officially starts in October and continues throughout semester break and into February.

“The beginning of the season you have dual meets, where you’re wrestling as a team with a team score,” senior Michael Runyan said. “After that, it gets more into individual tournaments where you’re wrestling for the number one spot.”

The team won area duals on Jan. 9, and the team won around two-thirds of the matches they’ve wrestled, racking up almost 900 total match points in takedowns, escapes, reversals and near falls.

State dual championships were held Jan. 15 and 16 at the Macon Coliseum with the Mill pulling seventh place, according to coach Burt Waller.

During duals, the team works together to pull a win for Starr’s Mill. “All the team is sitting on one bench [during duals] against the whole other team on their bench,” Waller said. “You send one guy out per weight, you wrestle and you keep a team score.” 

Waller said Starr’s Mill usually doesn’t win a match during state duals, but this year they won two of the four, even pulling off an upset against South Paulding.

The rest of the season focuses on the individual records of each wrestler, which depends on their weight class. After the state dual championship, the meets move into a tournament setting, Waller said, and the coaches put a wrestler in each weight class, and the boys progress through brackets to see if they qualify for state. 

The team still gets an overall score, but the focus shifts to a more individualized approach in preparation for the sectional tournament on Feb. 5 and 6 and the state championships on Feb. 12 and 13.

Runyan described the sport as “mano y mano” with each wrestler only having himself to rely on when he’s on the mat. Despite this, he and his teammates agree that they’re closer than most teams.

“The wrestling team is really, really tight,” senior Nino Young said. “We all have each other’s backs no matter what.” The wrestlers agree it’s hard not to be close with the wrestling team, considering the intense practices and tournaments.  

Young includes the coaches in this bond as well. “Our coaches push us to the limits,” he said. “They do that so we can perform our best and stay safe on the mat so we don’t get hurt. When we’re not wrestling, they’re joking with us and having a good time.”

Wrestling, for both the coaches and the team, is a lifestyle.

“You have to be completely devoted to it for five months,” Young said. “It’s practice five days a week– really hard practices– and you have to go to meets on the weekends, and depending on what you want to wrestle, you may have to lose weight.”

Though losing weight may seem like a staple to the sport, it’s never required of the wrestlers. Young cuts weight to maintain the 132-pound weight class because he said he wants to do well his senior year.

Martin also keeps down his weight to wrestle 115-pound weight class because most experienced wrestlers will be in the heavier classes, so he has a better chance of winning.

He said he’s gotten accustomed to losing weight and knows how to maintain his weight throughout the season in a healthy way. “If you don’t know how to do it right,” he said, “you’re just going to hurt yourself.” Martin said he’s come a long way from freshmen year in figuring out how to maintain his weight.

“You have to figure out how your body works,” he said. Martin calculates how much weight he loses in practice and during sleep, and he also monitors his water weight and food intake. “A lot of math goes into figuring out how much you’ll weigh at weigh-ins.”

Runyan, on the other hand, doesn’t cut weight and sometimes wrestles in a heavier class when the team needs it. The boys said that nobody forces them to cut weight. It’s the choice of each wrestler, and the coaches make sure the boys stay safe.

The wrestling season officially ends with the state championship, and the boys are counting down the days. “Thirty-two days and I’m never stepping on a mat again,” Young said.

Their next tournament was scheduled for Jan. 22 at 5:30 p.m. at East Coweta, but weather conditions caused it to be postponed. The area tournament will be on Jan. 30 at LaGrange High School.