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WRESTLING WITH THE STARS

 article about WRESTLING WITH THE STARS
A building in Pittsburgh was levitated on April 5, 1992. The Polumbo Center hovered majestically over the pavements of Pittsburgh for about three hours. How? The building was raised by the heart and courage of high school state wrestling champions who gathered in a tournament to determine the national champions of the USA in 13 weight classes.

Only the third year for such an event--only until 1990 this event was but a fantasy for wrestling fans. (This is the wrestling that involves real personal drama--not the feigned sadistic theatrics of TV "wrestling.") As a 1st year wrestler in high school I remember hearing about the awesome wrestlers from Granby High in Norfolk, Virginia. Coach Billy Martin Sr. and Granby's feats are legendary across the nation. Wouldn't it have been a dream to have seen how the great coach Billy Martin Sr.'s sons and other champions circa 1965 would have done against state champs from all over the USA?

First, such a tourney is a humbling experience for all the wrestlers. Half the state champs in this month's tourney lost their first round matches. (The double elimination format allowed them to continue.) Imagine state champs who had never been on their backs in 5 or 6 years of wrestling to be pinned! It happened 5 times at 103 alone. What about the humility of Brian Maria, Ohio State champ at 103 who beat the Connecticut and Florida State champs, to meet Oklahoma State champ in the semis, only to be pinned in 2 minutes 55 seconds!

Or the new humility of 130 pound Connecticut champion Jim Guzzio. He pinned the Utah champ in 1:02, beat the South Carolina State champ 14-3, then beat Ohio champion Peter Nathanson in the quarterfinals 9-3. In the semis, he PINNED Oklahoma champ John Johnson in 3:15 putting Guzzio in the finals against FOUR TIME STATE CHAMPION Justin Ware from Oklahoma. Guzzio, who had outscored his opponents 23-6 not including his two pins, was himself FINNED in the finals! Humility! Don't worry--he'd likely get a nice scholarship for being the 2nd best 130 pound college freshman wrestler in America.!

Being from the Washington D.C. area, I was anxious to see St. Stephens' two time Virginia state champ Abdul Malkik (135) who was written up in the Washington Post at least twice. Malik was the only Virginia wrestler to make the finals (non from Maryland or D.C. MADE IT). He had outscored his opponents 18-8 en route to the finals. His opponent was Oklahoma champion Mike SAMPLES WHO HAD OUTSCORED THE STATE CHAMPS HE BEAT BY 39-15!

Academic scholar, Malik removed his glasses and entered the three dimensional space over the mat which he appeared to own. A more graceful, explosive wrestler from the standing position is barely conceivable. Some wrestlers are heavy footed but Malik is so light on his feet that you wonder if they actually touch the mat. (Dan Gabel once said that 6 time world champion John Smith wrestled like a cloud "and you can't take down a cloud."  That was Abdul Malik.

Malik's opponent, Mike Samples watched in a crouch as Malik made tremendous lateral strides as he (Malik) selected the moment of his panther-like strike. The first period was close, but it soon became apparent that Samples was like a lion against Malik's panther. Samples lacked Malik's explosiveness and balance, but had greater strength and an awesome lightning counter attack. Samples won the decision and Malik, with the heart of a champion, was clearly dissatisfied with his performance--thus Malik's greatness. As Dan Gabel said: learn from your losses and remember the bad feeling and try with every fiber of your being, to avoid that feeling in the future, by winning.

Somewhere in a hall at St. Stephen's school in Alexandria, Virginia, there will be a plaque honoring Abdul Malikl. It will read:

Abdul Malik
Virginia State Champion 1991
Virginia State Champion 1992
Second Place High School Wrestler in the USA: 1992

Most students won't notice it as they chat and stroll down the hall. A few will read it and say "that's cool." But Malik is not the only one who understands his great achievement and that his heart and character are permanently greater for being a warrior on that day in Pittsburgh.

The Courage Award goes to Chad Short, 103 pound champion from Oklahoma. He got to the finals pinning champs from New York and Ohio in the semis and quarter finals. When he faced Tyson Rondeau of Arizona in the finals Short's eye was swollen shut. He actually wrestled in the finals with his eye taped OPEN so he could see! In point it went to Rondeau 6-3. In Heart and Guts, give it to Chris Short, Champion from the great wrestling state of Oklahoma!

If there was a highlight among the highlights, it was at 140--the now legendary Cary Kolat of Pennsylvania. (See Kolat.com for just about every move in wrestling.) FOUR TIME STATE CHAMP from Pennsylvania (local boy). Kolat got to the finals PINNING ALL THREE CHAMPIONS IN THE FIRST PERIOD! His opponent in the USA HIGH SCHOOL CHAMPIONSHIP FINALS was two time Ohio State champ Roger Chandler--a formidable opponent. Chandler had pinned champs from California and Maine and had outscored two other state champs by an average score of 20-5! Final score of the Kolat-Chandler showdown: Kolat 9-5 with Kolat dominating more than the score shows. This Kolat's final win as a high school wrestler, brought on the biggest applause from the largely Pennsylvania crowd. I was glad to hear that he wouldn't be gobbled up by the Iowa or Oklahoma college factories but but would wrestle at home at Penn State and later at Lock Haven. Kolat was clearly the best of the best on that day in Pittsburgh and I picked him to win at least 2 NCAA championships and an Olympic gold in 8 years. I later saw him lose in the NCAA finals at the University of Maryland when he ran out of gas in the 3rd period because he just couldn't go less than 100%. He was beaten by his own alpha male character. Amateur wrestling news recently (2009) described Cary Kolat as the best wrestler America has every produced who DIDN'T win an Olympic medal.
Now Cary Kolat is contributing an incredible service to the sport. He has created a video teaching library of every wrestling move. Check Cary out at Kolat.com. This dude is still in 5th gear and will always be. Hats off to Cary Kolat!

I walked out of the Polumbo Center in Pittsburgh that surreal evening in 1992, into the gray reality of a frigid April night in the "Steel City." I glanced back to get a last glimpse of the Polumbo Center and above it in the night sky, I saw an unusual star that seemed to be a rich gold color which seemed to warm the Pittsburgh night sky. I pointed it out to the parking lot attendant but HE COULDN'T SEE IT! Was I imagining it? Then I heard someone say "Hey buddy, we see it too!" I looked over and saw Abdul Malik and Cary Kolat smiling knowingly at me. "It's there, buddy. Don't worry, they said smiling. You can see it too 'cause we're not the only ones whose heart is in our sport." I saw them smile and nod. I smiled and couldn't say anything. I couldn't breath. I just smiled and turned and walked away, smiling in an ecstatic reverie. It took me a few moments for me to catch my breath. I floated out to my car, and drove off into the Pittsburgh night, lost in my reverie.


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