Tonight was our final youth wrestling banquet. My husband had surgery 72 hours ago to repair a ruptured achilles tendon. But tonight he attended the banquet. Because that is the kind of guy he is. This is the closing speech I gave to 160 attendees. Because my husband deserved it.
I don’t like to speak publicly. At all. But since I am the only one in this room that has been part of this program for the entire decade that Hubs coached - I thought it was only right that I spoke.
Ten years ago when our oldest son was in 3rd grade, we began our journey with this wrestling program. That first year we were introduced to the good, the bad and the ugly about junior league wrestling when Son #1 tore his MCL ligament in his knee at 8 years of age while wrestling a home match back in the day that our “home” was the High School wrestling room. Hubs ran onto the mat when Son #1 collapsed after trying to put pressure on that leg to walk. Son #1 refused to have Hubs carry him off. He held his head high and limping - made his way off of the mat. Even in that first season, the sport of wrestling had already begun its character building within him.
The next year Hubs became an assistant coach when all three of our boys decided to wrestle. Son #3 was a mere six years old and welcomed by everyone there. He worked hard and soaked in all that he could. In their first year, both Son #3 and Son #2 would be called up to the A-team starting lineup. Son #3 was the team’s 50 pounder and both he and Son #2 would go on to win the Maryland Junior Wrestling League’s championships. Those wall charts still hang on their bedroom walls.
Throughout the years, wrestling was our family affair. Hubs coached, I wrote the articles for the local newspaper and coordinated Spiritwear purchases. I took pictures of all of the team and routed them to their parents. We spent countless hours in gymnasiums but with all three boys involved – where else would we be? Daughter led the parade of wrestlers sisters between the concession stands and the bleachers filled with backpacks of Polly Pockets and other girly fun. Even now, with only Son #3 left – our kids continued to come back to work the MLK and other various tournaments. I look around now at the younger families doing all of those things that we once did and realize time marches on.
After 5 years of three boys in the A team line up, the Commisioner asked us to shadow them and be prepared to take over the program when their son would go to high school the next year. We happily accepted the challenge and learned that year exactly what we would be getting ourselves into.
Our first task was to purchase new uniforms. What you may not know is that our wrestling uniforms used to be navy blue, burgundy and white. When it was time to make a change – we decided to return to the Green and Gold of the past team colors. We designed the uniforms and added uniform distribution and collection to our list of jobs. For the past five years, those uniforms have lived in my basement. This year – they will obviously need a new home.
After a year of transition, Hubs would become Commissioner and Head Coach, Website Administrator and Treasurer for the program. I continued to be Newspaper Liaison and Uniform Coordinator and inherited the position of Banquet Coordinator upon the prior coach’s departure. There were wonderful families along the way that pitched in to help us out and great men that stepped up and volunteered their time to coach.
Throughout the ten years involved, we have met a lot of wonderful people. Families that were willing to help in so many ways. We made great friends that I am sure will remain on our Christmas Card list for a lifetime. While preparing for the end, Hubs and I have reminisced over many memories that we have from a decade in this program.
It was a difficult decision to step down as Head Coach this year. I know Hubs wanted to finish out his time and last year with Son #3. However, earlier this fall, Hubs’s mom after a surprising illness, passed away and then his Dad had a stroke. It was obvious to him that he wasn’t able to put in the time that he knew the team needed and deserved so he looked for volunteers to step up. It was not the way he planned to finish out his time.
First, I would like to take a few minutes to thank my husband. Thank you for being a kind-hearted, consistently dependable and calm-spirited coach. You never lost perspective. The focus and the mission of the team always being to teach the sport of wrestling, get young boys mat time, prepare them for high school but never forgetting it should be fun. You focused on the most important aspect of wrestling. Character building. This sport will fuel determination and work ethic. This sport requires all of your mind, all of your body and all of your heart – all of the time. There is one winner and one loser. Every single match. There is no teammate out there to help you. No one to assist. You are on your own to win or lose. As a coach, you prepared them for battle, calmly coached and gently encouraged sportsmanship after.
Throughout the years, dozens and dozens of parents approached me with great appreciation of your time. But more importantly, they always…ALWAYS – spoke of your calm spirit, the class and integrity with which you ran this program. In wrestling you can see a lot of stuff – crying wrestlers, tantrum throwing coaches and emotionally charged parents. You were always – ALWAYS even-keeled. You ran this program with complete class. Our team was always headed with a first class coach and commissioner. You have had the respect of all of the coaches in the league for a lot of years. I am grateful for the role model you were to these wrestlers. They saw first hand – how important your character is. How important your reputation is. You didn’t just talk the talk. You walked the walk.
Everyone knows that coaches give their time. Time at practices. Time at matches. Time at tournaments. But there is a lot of time that isn’t as visible. Unfortunately, the only person who typically sees that is the coach’s wife. There are many, many meetings that go on throughout the year – beyond the season. Many more administrative tasks than you would imagine. Who would have even thought that a recreational junior league team could require so much? Thousands of wrestling emails are on Hubs’s computer. That is the truth! I am always grateful to the wives who are willing to support their husbands that step up to coach. Without their patience and support – we wouldn’t have those coaches.
I’ve seen my husband do hundreds of things during these ten years. Plug bloody noses. Calm a nervous wrestler. Quiet a raging parent. Guide a new coach. Pay the referee. Arrange a match for EVERY member of the team. Carry a bag full of misplaced shoes and headgear for months. Read dozens of wrestling technique books. Encourage the little guy at the back of the room who hadn’t won a match all year. But I’d like to take a minute to share my favorite memory.
Many years ago, this wrestling program began to give out special awards at the banquet. It went on for years before we came and we hope the tradition continues. The wrestlers vote for their teammates that they believe deserve the titles, Outstanding, Dedicated, Best Attitude and Most Improved. The vote is intended to come from the wrestlers not the parents. These awards do more than acknowledge four specific wrestlers. They teach the TEAM to respect hard work. To be able to recognize those characteristics that build a great wrestler. To encourage them to find it within themselves. It breeds great sportsmanship and teambuilding while fostering healthy competition – hopefully inciting a will to work in each other – but at least allowing them to respect it in another. My husband has never focused on those awards because those were left to the wrestlers themselves and most of the time those were the wrestlers that were going to be more noticeable because of their wins.
My husband as Coach, focused on each member of the team as an individual. Every year we give a banquet gift to the wrestler. Some of these wrestlers don’t ever receive a medal or trophy because they didn’t earn them on the mat. Hubs knew how difficult that can be for young boys. He believed that those few moments that he called a wrestler up to give him his gift was his opportunity to give him his moment in the sun.
For 5 years, I watched him pour over his computer keyboard preparing something to say about each wrestler. He tried to make it personal. Always recalling a specific moment. Something accomplished. Mostly positive. Sometimes humorous. ALWAYS sincere. He would spend DAYS preparing those words. He wanted that wrestler to know their efforts were appreciated, their presence enjoyed and their future engagement in the sport of wrestling entirely supported. He took his position as Coach very seriously. No one could ask more of a volunteer recreational junior league coach.
I love what this sport taught my kids.
I love what my kids taught me.
I love my husband for what he gave to you.
Good luck to you all.