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Byers: There's No Better Time to Get Hooked on Penn State Wrestling

by on December 09, 2011 5:55 AM

When I was a toddler, my father was an assistant high school wrestling coach. I grew up enamored with the sport and the athletes who competed in it. I started attending Penn State matches at an early age and loved everything about it. The atmosphere, the excitement when someone hit a big move, the intensity of the wrestlers competing — there was something personal about it.

Each individual is a warrior on his own against an opponent. But there is something unique about the team dynamic. The coaches agonize with every point given up, every decision that doesn’t work out. And then there are the triumphs, both small and great. Teammates trying to will their friend to score necessary points. A kid battling to get an escape or successfully hit a new move he's been working on in practice.  The enthusiasm generated by a pin — the ultimate statement by a wrestler — is something special to behold.

Over the years I learned two important lessons. One was that I did not have the necessary skill set to become an accomplished wrestler. With hard work and determination, I certainly could have been improved and become decent, but I didn’t have a natural feel for the sport nor did I have the type of flexibility and reflexes needed to excel.

The second lesson was that not everyone out there shared my passion. In fact, many of my relatives — even those who were sports fans — didn’t know or care about wrestling.

There wasn’t much I could do about the first lesson, but I would like to change the second. Everyone should become a fan of the sport, and if everyone understood the sport better, they would become a fan. Even though I know this isn’t true, and there are some friends who have attended meets and still don’t get my passion, I contend that the more people who get exposed to the sport in the right setting, the more the sport will grow.

There is something very American about wrestling to me. It is a sport where you shake hands, you battle like crazy for everything you can get, trying to establish superiority, and then shake hands again and grow from the lessons learned. You rely on teaching, on the help of others, on proper guidance. But ultimately, the wrestler is independent and has to rely on his own cunning to prevail. Those who don’t succeed keep battling. Perseverance is often rewarded in the sport, though there are no guarantees. Ultimately, each wrestler charts his own course, though it doesn’t always work out fairly.

With my inaugural column, I will ask for those of you who are not already wrestling fans to give the sport, and more specifically, this Penn State team, a chance.

Here are just a few reasons why you should join me in following Penn State Wrestling this season:

Success with Honor: This community needs something to believe in. I’m not here to tell you that on a team of college-aged men there is nothing but virtuous, pure-as-the-wind-driven-snow activity. But I will tell you that I believe in this team’s coaches, its athletes and the ideals by which they strive to live their lives. This is a team that is determined to win by being more aggressive, more committed and more determined. It wants to do things the right way.

Cael Sanderson: You can come and watch arguably the greatest wrestler that has ever lived as he continues to build a powerhouse program. Don’t let his usually reserved demeanor fool you about the competitive fire that burns within. He is a coach — and a man — committed to doing the right thing the first time, every time.

David Taylor: This redshirt sophomore might be in the early stages of the greatest career in the 100-plus-year history of the program. With pinpoint precision and an unabated attack, Taylor scores points at a rate rarely ever seen in the history of college wrestling. He already has racked up five pins and a technical fall in his six collegiate bouts.

Packing the track: This team is nearing a sellout for every home dual, and a capacity-filled Rec Hall is one of the great venues in all of sports. The fans are knowledgeable, friendly and welcoming of newcomers to the nation’s oldest and greatest sport.

Ed Ruuuuth: Ed Ruth is a showstopper. He can hit a cradle from anywhere on the mat, and when asked his greatest attribute as a wrestler, he replied, “my smile.”

Quentin Wright: A Bald Eagle Area High School graduate, Wright has become the pride of Penn State wrestling. He had an improbable and thrilling postseason last year that culminated with an individual national championship. Wright represents all that is good about college athletics.

Winning is fun: This team is coming off a national championship season and is looking to follow in the footsteps of the women’s volleyball team and win multiple titles. Bandwagon jumping is an American tradition, and there is plenty of room on the Nittany Lions’. When it comes to Penn State Wrestling and fan support, the more the merrier. And this program is becoming merrier by the moment.



Jeff Byers has been the wrestling team’s traveling announcer since 1990.
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