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Column

A view — of sort — from mat side

Passion is part of sports, whether you are competing, coaching or watching.

Iowa high school wrestling is down to the three-day state tournament for the 2019-20 season. It all begins Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena.

Since the 2013-14 season, I’ve witnessed the Iowa passion and love for the sport of wrestling through the coverage of area high school wrestling programs.

Newton, Prairie City-Monroe and Colfax-Mingo will be represented at the 2020 state tournament. Newton and PCM each have three wrestlers locked in on wrestling on Iowa high school’s big stage in Class 3A and 2A, respectively. Colfax-Mingo sends two grapplers to take on the 1A competition.

Last Saturday, I had a new experience — I covered a full district wrestling tournament. In 2014, Newton hosted a 3A district tournament but I was in Marshalltown for the boys’ state swim meet. I got back to catch a couple of the second-place matches and do interviews with the Cardinal wrestlers headed to state that year.

That’s where I usually am — state swim meet — on district Saturday. Not this year, I was in Marshalltown as the state swim meet was in Iowa City.

As all wrestling fans in Iowa know, the top two wrestlers in each weight class at each district tournament advance to the state tournament at Wells Fargo Arena. Newton had six of its nine wrestlers going out the front of their respective brackets, meaning they won their opening match and moved into the semifinals. All had an opportunity to claim one of those two spots for state.

I love watching wrestling. I enjoyed covering the nine Cardinal wrestlers at the 3A district meet.

My first Iowa high school state tournament was in 2014. Wells Fargo Arena was filled to the brim, bottom to top, with wrestling passion.

I grew up with wrestling in Kansas. We’re just as passionate there. State tournaments are amazing. Even fans with no vested interest in outcomes can attend tournaments and watch the artistry of the sport on the mat.

One big difference between Kansas and Iowa high school state wrestling tournaments is Iowa has all three classifications wrestling in one arena. Kansas has its four classes at three different locations.

Sitting in Wells Fargo Arena, I am reminded of one of the greatest high school track meets in the nation — the Kansas High School All-Class Track and Field Championships. All six classifications of Kansas high school athletes come together at Wichita State University each May. You can enjoy watching the best athletes from the smallest Class 1A school to the largest Class 6A school.

These type of events are amazing.

I loved that on the big center scoreboard at Wells Fargo Arena had all the matches — scores, times, periods — up there so no matter where someone was sitting they could keep track of a match. You can’t always move around to see the mat-side scoreboard.

There’s the steady ebb and flow of team cheerleaders moving from mat to mat. The “Let’s Wrestle” announcement signaled the start of each session. In Kansas, teams and fans are allowed to hang banners and signs — not in Iowa.

Then there’s the wrestling. And there’s plenty of wrestling to take in over three days of the individual state tournament. When I wasn’t covering local wrestlers on the mat, I sat and took it all in. The passion mat side and throughout the arena.

I love the sport of wrestling. I grew up on a wrestling mat. My father is a wrestler. My brothers and nephews are wrestlers. My father, brothers and sister are wrestling coaches at the kids level plus my brothers coach high school and middle school wrestling in Kansas.

Wrestling is a sport that challenges the individual. There’s no one else on the mat with you. It’s you against one opponent. Your talent, your strength, your knowledge, your passion against one other, who has just as much passion for the sport.

There’s no one to block for you. No one to set a screen for you. No one to rebound the ball for you. It’s basic one-on-one. There are times when nothing goes right on the mat for you.

But when it all comes together, it is magical.

I’ve never had that pleasure. I’ve watched from mat side many times as wrestlers I knew, and many I didn’t, experience it both ways. Emotions run high. Tears come both in defeat and in victory.

My father and mother both loved the sport. They worked together to establish a youth program in my hometown in the 1960s.

Mom is gone now but her legacy of passion for the sport lives in her children. Dad continues to coach youth at age 92. Passion is his motivation.

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