Sunday, March 1, 2009

Reporter "grapples'' with wrestling coverage

My first writing assignment for The News-Herald took me to a bar on Route 6 in Willoughby Hills. I'm pretty sure it was in 1981 and absolutely sure the story was about "ladies night'' and how the female customers interacted with the male strippers who provided the entertainment.

I'd call that a heckuva way to start a career in the newspaper business.

The joint on Route 6 is long gone, but I'm still banging away at a wide variety of topics for The News-Herald. Until last weekend, that wide variety of topics did not include coverage of high-school wrestling.

Now, it does.

Sports Editor Mark Podolski was in a pinch and needed someone to cover the Division I district wrestling tournament at Mentor High School. He asked me to do it and I said, "Sure, why not.''

Having covered baseball, football, basketball and golf for many years, I'd like to think I'm conversant with those sports and comfortable writing about them. Wrestling was another matter entirely. I'd never been at a wrestling match as a spectator in my nearly 57 years, let alone covered one.

My experience at the Mentor district, often called "The Meatgrinder'' for the traditionally high level of competition there, was all positive.

The young men who wrestled in as many as five matches over two days are outstanding athletes and fierce competitors. With matches going on constantly on four mats, and no more than 30 seconds separating the end of one match from the start of another, I can't imagine a more fan-friendly format.

Ah yes, the fans.

When I walked in the gym at 5 p.m. Friday, the place was packed to the rafters. It stayed that way through Saturday's morning-afternoon and evening sessions. There was an energy in that gym I've seen (and heard) matched at few sporting events, professional or otherwise. Wrestling fans know their sport, love it and totally support the wrestlers.

With plenty of help from the staff of Mentor's athletic department, and from fellow newspaper reporters who are veterans of wrestling coverage, I got through the weekend in good shape. Mentor wrestling coach Ken Skilton and his assistant coaches were godsends, too.

When the state tournament begins Thursday in Columbus, I'll be following the exploits of Mentor's Jordan Victor, Mike Skilton (Ken's son), Dylan Zivcic, Damien Perry and Manny McLaughlin as well as the other wrestlers who qualified for state out of the Meatgrinder.

I'll never be an expert on high-school wrestling. But after last weekend, I'll always be a fan.

David S. Glasier


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