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Every Wrestler's Last Match

By James Emig

James Emig was a state tournament qualifier heavyweight in 1975 from Cincinnati Greenhill High School. He has worked at 12 Ohio High School Athletic Association State Championships. He has seven years of coaching experience as a Junior and Senior High wrestling coach a Finneytown and St. Xavier High Schools. He has served as tournament manager of the Cincinnati division I sectional at St. Xavier high school. 

This article appeared in the program for the 1993 Ohio State Wrestling Championships. 

There comes a time when every wrestler realizes his competitive career is over. Exactly when that moment occurs varies for every wrestler. For some, that realization takes place in advance of their last match; those wrestlers walk out onto the mat knowing it ends after that match. Others get caught up in the race for the top and donít really want to think about what may be their last match. It is difficult to put an end to something to which you have given so much of yourself.  However, sooner or later, every wrestler grasps the reality that he has wrestled his last match, and for many, it will happen this weekend. 

Looking through the stands and in the corridors of the arena at the state championships each year, you will see wrestlers whose careers are over. Sometimes youíll see a mother, sister, wrestlerette or girlfriend crying while holding him; a father looking out onto the arena floor, silently thinking about what could have been. Behind every wrestler are many others who quietly, deep within themselves, wrestle right along side him. They feel the joy of victory and the pain of defeat as if it was their own. When his career ends, much of the anguish they feel is because it is also the end of something that has meant very much to them. 

It is a long, difficult road from those very first matches, marked by many defeats, to the state championships. Somewhere in between, childhood ends. Games are no longer important and boys become men. Fortunate parents witness this beautiful transition. It is not without a great deal of pain and sacrifice for the wrestlers and families alike. For most wrestler, qualifying for the Ohio State Championships represents the single greatest achievement in their young lives. For all wrestlers, qualifying represents an experience they will never forget. 

No one knows what drives these young men and coaches to work so hard and sacrifice so much. The rewards come from within. This sport of wrestling brings winning and losing together such that the combination means self-improvement. This is the real reward. One wrestler canít improve without the efforts of another. The champions owe a debt to the wrestlers  they have wrestled and beaten. All wrestler who finish behind the champions owe a debt to the champs because they have improved from the experience. Collectively, we all owe a debt to this great sport because we have all been touched by our involvement. 

Six hundred and twenty-four wrestlers enter this tournament each year with the dream of winning that final match. A dream, however, only thirty-nine will realize. To those wrestlers who wrestle their last match this weekend, congratulations to you, no matter where you place. The reality is, there are no losers in the sport of wrestling; there are only those who did not wrestle.