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Hey Ref

Hey Ref: The Cool, Emotional, Odd, Funny, and Worst Moments

Stop for a minute and think, what’s your favorite wrestling memory, or any organized sport for that matter? Whatever it is, an official was there to watch it unfold. Obviously, we don’t partake in the celebration or in some cases the disappointment but we watch them happen because we’re always the other person on the mat. We get a firsthand look at those celebrations and disappointments. We hear what coaches are saying to us and their athletes and we see the emotions the wrestlers are going through. As a fan, I sometimes wish other fans could hear what I hear or see what I see. Simply put: Cool, funny and sometimes very emotional things happen on the mat and we’re there to witness it all.

The Cool:

One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen was a kid work like hell to get tech falled. It was an amazing site to see and even a more interesting one to officiate. I still remember it like it was yesterday. You see, I live in one of the better states to officiate wrestling. So when you have a “rivalry” dual it’s not uncommon to have a quite a few fans show up. In this case, it was one of those rivalries where Team A always found a way to win even on their off years and Team B’s good years, but they were neighboring schools so it was a rivalry nonetheless. This year both teams had a solid line-up but Team B was young and even though they were the home team it would have been a stretch for them pull it off.

Fast forward to the last match of the night and Team B had a six-point lead. So all that needed to happen for Team B to secure their first win in a while was their freshman heavyweight needed to not get pinned against Team A’s returning state champ. Now I hate to say this, but sometimes in high school, there’s a complete mismatch, and this definitely was the case in this instance. I’m pretty confident if this were any other situation, Team B would have forfeited this match, but this was their chance to do something they hadn’t done in years. This was their night, you could sense it. All “Timmy” needed to do was not get pinned. Team B knew it, Team A knew it and everyone in the whole damn gym knew it.

The first period was what you would expect; Timmy found a way not to get pinned and was down 8-0. He chose top and let the Champ escape to make it 9-0, a quick takedown and it was 11-0. Then he gets turned and just as I’m about to call the fall the horn sounds and the period ends 14-0. The crowd is going nuts; his team is going even nuttier because all he needs to do now is get taken down and his team wins.

The start of the third was probably the funniest minute of wrestling I ever officiated. The Champ chose top, “surprisingly” locked hands and let Timmy escape: Now its 14-2 Champ. After a good 40 seconds of the Champ not jumping on a purposely falling Timmy he finally secured the takedown. Now it’s 16-2 and the champ goes to work on top. He’s hammering this kid, not illegally, but hammering the way champs do. Turk, power half and everyone is on their feet, Team A, Team B, the fans, table workers, the janitor, everyone. It was without question the loudest I’ve ever heard a high school gym. I could actually feel the vibration as I was down looking for the fall. They tried everything but they were in one of those odd positions where the Champ would have to completely re-adjust to secure the fall. Timmy was stuck and by that I mean his body wasn’t moving and his one shoulder was a good inch off the mat.

So as the Champ carefully tries to re-adjust, Timmy lets out a yell, gets this look in his eye and gives every single ounce he had left to belly out. I come up with 3 the crowd goes absolutely bananas, the Champ wins 19-2 but Timmy jumps up and down in celebration! It was amazing! The Champ walked off “defeated” and Timmy’s teammates hoist him on their shoulders and the celebration began. It’s something that can only happen in a wrestling dual because we all know in duals it’s not just if you win or lose, it’s how you win or lose that really matters.

Other cool things:

Officiating an athlete’s 100th career win. Those are always cool, kids work hard and deserve recognition. Senior nights are fun too. I never would let it affect my officiating but I, like most, hope seniors pull out a win that night.

The Emotional:

I had a routine match one night and a kid for the home team secured a first-period fall. I wasn’t thinking much of it until the entire gym, visiting team including the kid he just pinned, gave him a standing ovation. It caught me off guard and when I looked over at the wrestler he was on his knees in tears and his mom and sister were coming out to hug him. The standing ovation and the hug on the mat lasted a solid 5 minutes. I didn’t know why and didn’t know what to do so I just let it ride. As the mother, sister and son continued their embrace most of, if not all the gym, was in tears. When the kid made his way back to the center I raised his hand the ovation started all over again.

Little did I know the kid’s father had passed the day before in a car accident but the kid still wanted to wrestle “because his Father taught him to always give your best effort, no matter the circumstance”. After that kid’s match, the second match of the dual, the visiting coach asked if he could “have a couple minutes to review his weigh-in sheet”. I’m thankful that coach was smart enough to ask such a silly question; he understood the situation and his good thinking gave everyone some time to regroup. That, by far, was the most emotional I had ever seen a gym.

The Odd:

The oddest things to officiate are wrestle-offs. Not the ones in front of everyone colleges do in October as a dry run for their dual meets. I’m talking about mid-February when you get a call from the coach asking you to come officiate some matches in their room before the conference tournament. When you officiate there are certain things you get used to. Coaches yelling instruction, fans calling for stalling, just background noise in general. All of that is gone when you do wrestle-offs in a wrestling room and my god is it strange. If you have young kids you’ll understand this: it’s like when you’re home and you can hear your kids playing together in another part of the house and then it gets quiet. It just doesn’t seem right.

Coaches don’t want to show any favoritism, so they stay quiet. There are no fans, no screaming, no instruction, just you and two wrestlers fighting for a starting spot. Not to mention officiating teammates is hard in general because they know each other’s tendencies. It’s by far, for me at least, the oddest and most difficult things to do as an official.

The Worst:

The absolute worst thing to be on the mat for is a serious injury. I’m not talking about that kid who bangs his knee or gets cut and will need a couple stitches. It’s that sound you hear when that knee pops or that snap of an ankle. We all know it’s part of the sport but there’s something that grabs you when you’re on the mat and you hear that sound when an athlete is doing something they’ve done a thousand times over. Almost every serious injury I’ve seen the athlete has been doing something normal. It sucks, it’s unavoidable and part of the sport, but for me, that’s the absolute worst to witness. Not that I wish an injury on anyone but when something like that happens, I always hope the kid it happened to has some eligibility left, because well, it just seems worse when that may be that kid’s last match.

The Funny:

Coaches are hilarious. Intense yes, but I could make a comedy podcast just repeating what some of these coaches say in the locker room and on the mat. Not necessarily to me as an official but to their wrestlers. During an injury timeout once the coach of the uninjured wrestler pulled out a sharpie and drew an arrow on the both the kid’s hands. He then told him, “When you get that half in, look at your hand and follow the arrow”. I couldn’t help but laugh. It worked, though, the kid won by fall and ended up being a Division II All-American that year.

I had a kid get poked in the eye pretty good once. I gave him a couple seconds but he wanted to get it looked at by the trainer so I put him on injury time. The coach walked over and asked what was wrong and the kid told him he couldn’t see. The coach looked at him and said, “that’s ’cause your eyes are closed”. The kid immediately opened his eyes and we were good to go. Problem solved.

The best though was a couple of years back when I sort of blew a call. It was at a Division III school and the set up was a little tight. I don’t remember what weight it was but it was bigger guys, really athletic ones at that. One had double under hooks and they were making a rather quick beeline for the front row of the stands. Thinking they were going to end up landing on the fans, I blew my whistle anticipating they were going out of bounds. Sure enough, one stopped dead in his tracks, keeps a toe in while maintaining control of the other wrestler. Problem was, I had already blown the whistle so I couldn’t award the two. I still wonder how the one stopped so quickly, I would have bet anything they were going end up in the third row. Hell, half the front row had already bailed out of the danger zone and the ones who remained were getting ready to catch the guys.

Anyway, the coach of the kid who should have had the takedown didn’t say much. I assume it was because it was pretty obvious why I blew the whistle, plus his kid was winning pretty handily. So, after a couple seconds into the restart, I noticed the coach and his two assistants have their phones out. Thinking that was odd, I glanced up again and all three of them were now standing there on the edge of the mat with their phones directly in front of their mouths, the same way you would hold a walkie-talkie. The buzzer sounds to end the match and I ask their wrestler, “what are your coaches doing”? He looked at me and said they’re making fun of you because you “blew the call”. I lost it, it was the funniest jab at an official I had ever seen or heard of. They were literally blowing the call. In a silly way, I was happy they decided to take the jab at me.