Defenseless with a punch

Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.

My football coach, Bob Blackwell, worked hard at recruiting me to wrestle. As a sophomore, I was a whopping 145 pounds, and coach Blackwell told me I could make 132 easy.

Great I thought, my buddies that wrestled were all built like hydraulic jacks. They were a lot shorter than me, but coach Blackwell kept talking about leverage, angles, and being able to sprawl out of takedowns.


I didn’t take his offer to wrestle, but I did get a lot of takedowns once track season started.

My friend Orris Miller was the worst when it came to takedowns. Orris was a great wrestler, he was runner-up his senior year at 126 pounds, and he liked nothing better than shooting all sorts of takedowns on me. I was defenseless. Every time I tried to counter a move; he had another one that worked off that counter. I spent a lot of time during warmups getting up off the ground.

One afternoon, after being on the receiving end a half-dozen or so times, I punched Orris in the forehead.

“Why’d you do that,” he asked as he rubbed his head.


“Duh, like I could do anything else to stop you,” I said in that brilliant banter unique to 16-year-old boys.

He didn’t stop, but he did slow up the pace.

That was my sum total of wrestling experience until I was coaching at Lusk. I helped with basketball, as the unpaid freshman coach, but at 195 pounds in those days I was a good match for our heavyweight and 189-pound wrestlers Kirk Wasson and Troy Hladky.


We were in the four-season sports cycle in those days. Basketball was a shorter season and wrestling overlapped hoops on one end and track and field on the other.

Coach Jerry Oestmann asked me to come in and wrestle those two guys since they were getting tired of going against each other all the time. “Sure,” I thought, “Why not?”

Troy was why it turned out.


Kirk was a big kid, but a much better basketball player than a wrestler. Though he was 6-4 and 245 pounds, I didn’t have much trouble doing drills with him.

Troy, on the other hand, was almost exactly my size and knew what he was doing.

I spent a lot of time reliving my high school years with Orris as Troy tossed me around the mat. I was 24 years old and not about to get pinned by a high school kid, but he had me on my back pretty quick in most of the drills. I bridged until Jerry blew the whistle and my neck hurt for a week after that first practice. Troy ended up state runner-up to David James of Encampment after beating Boyd Brown of Midwest in an overtime match at 185 pounds.

I liked wrestling, I just wasn’t good at it since I’d never put in the time, but I was always glad to keep score, run the clock or set up brackets.

My favorite thing to do in those days was to throw the towel. If you watched the Wrangler Duels, the Don Runner, the Lander Invitational, or the Ron Thon in recent weeks you probably noticed that when the time dropped to 10 seconds left in the period, someone, usually a high school girl would walk up to the official, place their hand on his shoulder, then hit him gently on the back with a rolled up towel. That’s the civilized way of letting the official know that time had expired in that period.

Back in the day, as we say now, there wasn’t much civilized about any sport, much less the most brutal of high school sports, wrestling.

As time expired, instead of walking out and calmly tapping the referee with a towel, we threw it. Some of us threw it harder than others. This wasn’t just a towel, but a towel rolled into a tight roll with white athletic tape wrapped around it.

I behaved against officials I didn’t know, but the guys that were familiar got a little extra on the towel toss.

I officiated football in those days, as well as all the home girl’s JV and freshman basketball games, so I knew when to be serious and when to have a little fun with the zebras.

The basic technique was just to whip the towel at the official, so it hit him in the back. Sometimes a little too hard, but sometimes not.

My favorite throw was the bouncing towel toss.

The idea was to wait until the official was facing you and use this technique then. Officials were always watching the two kids going at it on the mat, and not paying any attention to the scorekeepers. They even signaled toward the scorer’s table without making eye contact.

If they were positioned just right, you could throw a 60 mph towel toss, bounce it off the mat, and hit them…well, as they used to say on an illegal below-the-belt punch in boxing…in the lower abdomen.

Yes, it was a cheap shot, but it was all in fun for guys who’d only recently been teenage clowns.

In later years, I kept score, then ran the computer for larger meets, including the state tournament in 1984 at Wolverine Gym in Riverton.

Casper didn’t have a monopoly on wrestling, volleyball, and basketball in those days. State volleyball was held at Riverton as well, and state basketball in Sheridan, Laramie, and Rock Springs before the WHSAA set up shop in Casper each year for these culminating events.

That year I ran two Apple IIe computers simultaneously, double entering all the matches from Class AA, A, and B into each computer.

Riverton athletic director Bill Strannigan had the maintenance staff set up a platform on the far side of the gym, across from the home benches in basketball. Several gals processed the forms from each match, checked the scoring then handed them to me to be entered.

It worked pretty well, and I was able to watch a lot of the matches over the two days of the tournament.

Saturday night arrived and we were up to date on data entry, but an Apple IIe is far from a supercomputer, and the program with all the data entered still took over an hour to process and score the team portion of the meet.

A reporter from the Casper Star Tribune was on deadline and kept harassing me about when the results would be available. He was going to have to call the Star Tribune and narrate the results to another reporter, and his deadline was looming.

He came back every five minutes as I finished the final data entry, so I eventually just ignored him.

He came up once too often when Strannigan was at the platform. Just a minute after another plea for results, Bill came up to me and asked, “Do you need anything?”

“Yeah Bill, get this clown off me,” I said.

I explained what was going on and watched as the 5-5 Strannigan bumped the offending reporter out of the gym Carl Andre style with his finger.

The reporter futilely yelled, “That’s it, you’re not getting any state wrestling coverage,” as he left the gym.

I can still hear Bill’s voice, “Try it, buddy, you’ll be looking for a job Monday morning.”

A few minutes later I had the results and gave the dot-matrix printed results to the Tribune reporter first.

It made the statewide edition Sunday morning.

Wrestling is in its final few weeks. We have a handful of boys and girls who have good shots at a state title. It is the most difficult of sports, not just for endurance and brutality, but because like track, swimming, and cross country, it’s just you against the world, there is no team to fall back on. Support the kids and the coaches, but refrain from towel (or any style) bashing the officials too.


Related Posts

Have a news tip or an awesome photo to share?