Screams and cheers fill the thick, sweaty air as teenage boys seem to fly through the sky and land on the ground with a loud smack of a mat. While this may seem like the scene of a ruthless spectacle in the ancient Roman colosseum, it is actually just the conventions of an average high-school wrestling tournament. It is no secret that other sports, such as football, basketball, and baseball, are more popular in high school as well as popular media. However, wrestling offers its own completely unique atmosphere and exhilarating experience along with providing the viewer with just as much, if not more, entertainment value. Wrestling is undeniably an unappreciated sport that grips its audience with adrenaline and excitement.
For someone foreign to the game, understanding and following the rules of sports, such as football, can be difficult. At first glance, wrestling may just look like a bunch of boys throwing each other around and contorting themselves as well as their opponents as if playing a heated game of Twister. Given this, anyone who watches the sport can be entertained to some degree, regardless of if the person knows anything about the rules and guidelines for a match. Wrestling is also a good spectator sport because it caters to this generation’s declining attention span by only consisting of three two-minute periods; six minutes total in a match. Of course, during some matches there will be pauses that may lengthen the time, but I’ve seen matches that were over with in five seconds as well. Wrestling packs a lot of intensity into a small time frame, which is always guaranteed to pump up the excitement of anyone watching. And at the end of the day, no matter how barbaric it may be, wrestling appeals to our primal nature. When watching people wrestle, this innate sense is ignited within the viewer that couples with excitement.
Each week of the winter wrestling season, a high-school transforms their gymnasium into an arena fit to hold countless wrestling matches and hordes of people. The atmosphere of a typical tournament isn’t everyones’ cup of tea, but it is undeniably intense and unique. A tournament, as opposed to regular meets, consists of numerous competing high schools. I’ve personally attended events that have included anywhere between eight and thirty-two or so high schools. The region in which I participated in has fourteen different weight classes, ranging from 106 pounds to 285+ pounds. Having just twenty-five teams representing their own schools on its own would be a lot of people. However, along with each team comes the coaching staff, managers, and family and friends who come to support their wrestler. Given all of this, tournaments are clearly very crowded. Some people may consider this to be a bad thing, but others believe the substantial amount of people creates more of the energy and intensity that wrestling tournaments are known for.
One unavoidable component of the atmosphere of a wrestling tournament is the impenetrable stench that saturates the room. Innocent, unsuspecting people who are trying to enter the gym for the event are met at the door with a wall of thick, hot, and sweaty air. However horrendous this initial blast may be, once the patron gets into the room and has time to adjust, they become “nose-blind” to the odor, and the smell is no longer a problem. What does not go away, however, is the palpable sense of testosterone pumping through the room. Although wrestling is known to be a male-dominated sport, there are a handful of girls who participate in their respective weight classes and against the boys–just like anyone else. These girls continue to defeat the odds by working just as hard, if not harder, as the boys at every practice and compete with the same ferocity.
The atmosphere of a wrestling tournament is only one aspect of the overall experience. My experience at these events as a team manager and a female was definitely unique. Even though I may not be on the mats and wrestling, I always felt like I was a member of the team. I felt excitement and adrenaline pump through my veins as I sat on the very edge of the mat, screaming my lungs out in undying support of my teammates. My voice joins all the others as we yell directions at the wrestler like “shoot,” or “break the grip,” or my personal favorite, “squeeze!” As our wrestler pins his opponent to the ground and we hear the referee smack the mat, the entire team erupts into cheers as well as any bystander who happens to be watching that mat. Anyone watching can easily get involved, regardless of if you have a specific wrestler you are rooting for. The sport is especially unique because although only one wrestler wrestles at a time, it is not an individual sport. Wrestling is a team sport in which the efforts of every player impacts the team in a huge way. Because of this, every match brings its own intensity as we try to get the highest total score at the tournament and stand on the coveted podium. The entire experience is shared with every person in the room and creates the sense of some type of community.
Wrestling is an underrated and underrepresented sport both on the scholastic and collegiate levels. Other sports such as football, basketball, baseball, soccer and others continue to be the spotlight of popular media while there is seldom any coverage of even the most important of wrestling events. All of this despite wrestling being a competitive contender in key criteria by which spectator sports are defined, these being: entertainment value, atmosphere, and overall experience. I believe the sport of wrestling brings something unique and special to the current landscape of popular sports today and should receive the attention and recognition it deserves.