Everybody knows much of the professional wrestling we watch on TV is phony. But we watch it anyway because it’s great entertainment. On the other hand, “real” wrestling” is a serious sport engaged in by many serious people. I was one.
During my high school days one might have described me as a “jock” since I participated in several sports. In 1968 I was attending General H. H. Arnold High School in Wiesbaden, Germany. It was the largest school for American military dependents in the country at that time.
But I was not physically built for some sports. Track for instance, was not my strong suit. I’m 5’4” and unfortunately short legs don’t lend themselves favorably to that particular activity. Don’t misunderstand, I was a stout, solidly built young lad as a freshman and had excelled in most athletic activities. Not that I would be considered for a spot on an Olympic team mind you, but relatively speaking I was not one to be ignored.
Football for instance, was a game where I earned the nickname “Tank”, but again, speed was my drawback. Eventually I found my niche in high school wrestling, where the ominous nickname followed me.
I was introduced to wrestling in physical education class by a “bull” of an instructor. It all began when our wrestling instructor was demonstrating the proper way to flip an opponent from a front head lock. Most of the guys in my class were fairly large individuals. So, when he asked for a volunteer to demonstrate on I must have been the obvious candidate.
“Now, when I try to throw you, try as hard as you can to stop me,” he growled. “When executed properly this move is infallible!” Apparently he didn’t execute the move properly. I steeled my body and became an unmovable object. You could hear muffled snickers from the class as the coach became red faced and out of breath in his attempt. Finally I tired of the game and abruptly stood up lifting the teacher with me and successfully tossed him onto his back. Not a bad accomplishment for a 148 lb 9th grader.
It seems Judo, which I had been studying for several years, was the one effective offense against the instructors’ “infallible move” which had been overlooked. One after another challengers from my class were all defeated by what became known as my “unorthodox style”. My moves may have been unorthodox perhaps, but not illegal. Soon after, my classmates were unwilling to wrestle me. The coach decided to advance me to the sophomore class. Long story short, I eventually ended up wrestling in the senior class.
By this time rumors of my supposed wrestling prowess had reached the ears of the high school wrestling champion. It was inevitable we would eventually meet and have to do battle. Public interest demanded it. A date and time was scheduled for an “unofficial” match.
We met after classes one day in the school gymnasium. To our surprise the bleachers were full. The match was supposed to be “unofficial”! My opponent was an imposing figure to say the least, but I was prepared.
The struggle dragged on for a half hour with neither of us able to gain an advantage. Finally the match was called a “draw”. My adversary and I shook hands as the spectators applauded. I was then offered a spot on the high school wrestling team. I asked for a little time to consider the position as I was unsure I would be able to fit practice and events into my schedule.
However, an event soon took place which made up mind for me. It happened during a wrestling bout with a junior. I had seized my challenger in a “bear hug” and as I my arms constricted tightly around him he suddenly collapsed in extreme pain. I had inadvertently seriously damaged his spinal column and the injury was permanent. The boy was still able to walk, but his physical capabilities would forever be hampered. Needless to say, I was not proud of what I’d done.
Therefore, I decided not to wrestle anymore. Unlike TV wrestling in which injuries may or not be real, the harm I had inflicted was.