Wrestling is the toughest sport there is, and it just keeps getting picked on. Wrestling is funny that way. It has a lot of contradictions.
More than in any other sport, Central Valley kids excel at wrestling. It's difficult to fully explain why. Maybe it's tradition. Maybe it's that wrestling thrives in farming communities.
This weekend is one of the best wrestling tournaments in California, maybe west of the Rockies, the Doc Buchanan Invitational at Clovis High. You cannot park for blocks. Motorhomes line the school parking lot. Parents tailgate.
It is a highlight of Valley sporting events, but it still feels like wrestling needs to be defended. The past few years have been a battle. More and more college programs have been dropped to try to meet Title IX gender-equity guidelines.
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Fresno State even dropped wrestling so it could add lacrosse, which is something like the Colombians giving up coffee to try out ice sculpting.
And this past year, a Buchanan High wrestler was charged with sexual battery after he allegedly pushed his fingers into a freshman teammate's anus through the boy's uniform while attempting a wrestling move. You can imagine the ripples from news like that. Two boys' careers were stopped. Every parent now has a reason to keep their child from trying the sport.
And wrestling is taking the beating. It's been sold as the reason for the whole convoluted mess, where members of the community and even the District Attorney's Office can't agree on what should be done. It's being used as the defense of the boy accused.
It is not our job to decide the case. Maybe it happened. Maybe it didn't. Maybe it happened differently than the accusation. That's why there are lawyers and investigators and trials and juries.
But there is at least one victim: wrestling. What the boy is accused of doing is not part of that sport, or any other. That doesn't mean the boy is guilty, it just means wrestling is not.
Wrestling was simply the venue where alleged bullying and assault took place. It wasn't the bully. It wasn't the assault. If someone aimed at a person at the shooting range, would the range even be relevant?
The physical nature of the sport makes it easy to bring into the picture, but anyone who knows wrestling knows better. A crime was either committed or it wasn't.
It is a shame to have to defend such a strong sport. Wrestling is quiet and fascinating, even though the matches are obnoxiously loud. Wrestling is Marine Corps intense, but the young men and women who participate usually are reserved and soft spoken.
In a match, a wrestler's ability is fully exposed to the world, and yet the work that creates that ability is often done in isolation; on long runs, in the discipline to turn down a pizza on Friday night, in drills repeated again and again in a cramped, smelly wrestling room.
It's arguably the most emotional sport, and you never see show-boating. Poor sportsmanship is almost nonexistent.
Wrestling is human attrition, smashing another person's face into the mat, twisting legs and arms, an effort to make the other person helpless. And yet in all of that madness, punches almost never happen in competition.
"I've seen it," Clovis High athletic director Ed Schmalzel said. "But it's rare."
It's a cult sport. The people involved see beauty and perfection. Everyone else is curious as to how and why it ever became popular.
"You're an animal in that [circle], but you step off and you're a gentleman," said Schmalzel, who came to Fresno years ago to wrestle at Fresno State. "What an amazing thing to teach a young man about aggression."
Sadly, most people don't understand that. Even in the Valley, we hear about its slow demise as a college sport, and as an ugly high school accusation.