Feb. 6, 2015

High School: The Good Ole Days

Once upon a time in a land just a few hundred yards from where I sit, I attended Beverly Hills High School and was a member of the BHHS wrestling team. Wrestling is not a glory sport. Girls never chase after wrestlers, as they are just a different breed.

Today I attended practice for the current squad who are about to face the toughest test of their young wrestling lives, Bay League Finals next week.

I sat there with my old friend Dr. Gary Solnit and our beloved 82-year-old coach Jack Gifford. What a thrill to walk into the old practice room with the heater going and the kids working out and running laps indoors.

The smell alone brought back memories I cannot accurately describe to someone who has never experienced the blood, sweat, pain and tears a high school wrestler experiences in a sport most people in your own high school will never experience. Some of the kids are on the football team, but it takes a rare breed to handle this sport. 

To be a wrestler, you have to wrestle at a weight you can compete at. If you wrestle at your natural weight, you are sunk. Every kid you will face will most likely be wrestling at a 10-12 pound deficit. AT least that is how it was when I wrestled 1975-1978.

I'm not going to go "in my day, we had it so much tougher" on you. That isn't fair to these kids who sacrifice so much. I will just say that many years have passed and the rules and laws have changed so much that it is rare you will find a kid who experiences the type of discomfort many of their predecessors did.

Let me also state that I was not the most-talented wrestler (by far) on any of the squads I was on. I was a useful wrestler. In fact, I was so useful, our star wrestler Mark Schoenfield beat me to bits for two years. I helped prepare him for bigger and better. He did pretty well, so I always took great comfort in my broken noses and bruised ribs helping our team to the BEST of my ability.

When I was a senior, I had to face a kid from Torrance High School who was one of the best in the state of California. Kaichi was a much-feared quick pin artist. 

Coach Gifford and my squad knew going in we had a big chance to win that dual meet. In fact, it was one of the few times our wrestling room was overfilled for a meet. This team had several top wrestlers and I was very nervous. 

"Platt. You will NOT get pinned by this kid," coach Gifford drilled into me all week. He then reminded me that I must make weight. This was one weight class under my usual 120-pound weight class that year. So I had to reduce and take on a top wrestler. This was daunting.

I lost the battle, but I won the war. I stalled, ran and weedled my way to a 6-1 loss and we won that dual meet. Now most of you must be saying to yourselves "What a loser." I say anyone who knows ANYTHING about this sport, knows that it IS a team sport and sometimes you take one for the team.

That is what Jack Gifford instilled on me and my teammates. I am a better man for having experienced the pain and torture, the discipline and the utter joy high school wrestling brought this kid who was three-years removed from losing his mother and being thrown into a new community, after my father remarried.

I took this challenge very seriously and it has helped shape me for more than 40 years. 

I don't recommend wrestling for everyone, but there is a certain pride we former wrestlers carry with us throughout our lives.

For some of us, the thrill of a Thursday afternoon in the high school wrestling room brings back both sensory and emotional memories I never got anywhere else.

Thanks Gary, Shoney, Allen, Engel, Farrell,  Cabrera (RIP), Fu and the rest of my old Norman mates for three of the hardest, yet best years I ever experienced.