By Randy Hanson
The year is not important. The magic of two great coaches, Mike Pierro and Bob Smith is very important. Their combined passion for the sport of wrestling and their inventiveness, when working with junior high wrestlers, is without equal.
On a January afternoon long ago, I watched Bob’s and Mike’s teams compete against each other. Prior to the match, which was the last match of the season, Mike and Bob sat down with each other and created a menu of individual matches that would reward and challenge each wrestler. It would also highlight “what’s best for the sport of wrestling.” Working together, they were able to demonstrate, to their wrestlers and the families of their wrestlers, how truly special wrestling can be when the opposing coaches place the greatest emphasis on the growth and development of each wrestler, and not on winning.
As I recall that afternoon, the match score between the two teams was very close the entire match. In fact, going into the final match, the score was tied, according to Mike and Bob’s very creative scoring system. The final match of the competition would decide the team outcome. Both teams were crowded closely around the edge of the mat, in fact much closer than they should have been according to the rules and both teams were experiencing a heightened sense of intensity. The parents from both schools were very much sensing something special was going to happen, all the time hoping their wrestler would be victorious. Something special did happen.
Bob Smith’s last wrestler was a young man who came from a wrestling family. His perceived limitation to most of the people in the gym was Down’s syndrome. Mike Pierro’s last wrestler was a young man whose perceived limitation was a lack of athletic talent and experience. His body shape was similar to the shape of a pear. His muscle tone was non-existent, and he had not come from a wrestling family.
All season long, both boys had made a commitment to and rehearsed becoming a wrestler; putting on their wrestling shoes, head gear, wrestling singlet and their warm-ups. At each practice and each match both had done their very best. They had accepted the ups and downs they experienced and in doing so transformed themselves from two junior high school boys into WRESTLERS.
On this day they would wrestle for their team on the biggest stage they had ever experienced and Their Special Match would take place in front of the most supportive and enthusiastic audience anywhere.
As I write this, I have many tears flowing from my eyes, because Mike Pierro and Bob Smith created a moment in history where only good things could happen. And in the process, the life of every person in the gym would be enhanced.
When their names were announced over the loudspeaker both wrestlers sprinted to the center of the mat, listened to the referee’s instructions, shook hands and on the command “wrestle” did what they had been coached to do. Each boy wrestled at a level they had never before experienced. As the final seconds ticked off the clock both boys exhausted continued to wrestle. The buzzer sounded. The match ended with the score tied 11-11.
The customary handshake, between the two spent young wrestlers, never took place. It was replaced by a hug that lasted a very long time. The entire gym was transformed into a celebration of joy. Wrestlers on both teams congratulated anyone they could congratulate and the adults stood and applauded what they had seen.
On that afternoon long ago, in the cafeteria of Robbinsdale Junior High School, wrestlers and parents on both teams realized they had witnessed something truly special.
Mike Pierro and Bob Smith had created an environment where anything and everything was possible, and I was there to see it.
Randy Hanson was the head wrestling coach at Robbinsdale Cooper High School from 1990- 1995 and an assistant coach from 1975 -1982.