What are the chances that the high school wrestling coach would be a Latino guy who was adopted and raised by Anglo parents?
“I pretty much figured he was adopted when his name didn’t match his face,” Coach Tony said when he introduced himself to us when we came by to pick our son up from practice. That’s when he explained that he as adopted, too, which, of course, accounted for his name not matching his face.
My adoptive mom’s heart took flight. Just out of the blue, falling on me like raindrop kisses, this little gift of providence lay in our path. My son would have a full-fledged, adult, total role model that he would see every day after school, who would be his coach and mentor, the person he would thank, after us, for setting him on a course for a fabulous life with many accolades and awards. Good God in heaven, what were the odds?
We went to the first match, in the basement of a south side school, even though we weren’t sure our son would be eligible to wrestle because of grade issues he was experiencing. This is also known as being academically ineligible, but that sounds awfully harsh for the situation. So we went, we sat on the metal folding chairs, and we watched a bunch of squirrelly freshmen wrestle. It’s a sweaty, kind of off-putting, grappling kind of sport. I didn’t naturally take to it. It felt a little much, if you know what I mean. Not knowing anything about wrestling, I had no idea if my son would be wrestling or when.
Suddenly, he’s in the ring! He’s announced as Jose Sanchez. Say what? Now he has a name that matches his face but it’s not his actual name. He goes to the mat, takes the required wrestler’s starting position, the match starts, and he jumps up and starts running round the mat as if wrestling is a game of tag to him rather than a contact sport. He does this until the other guy catches him and then they wrestle. It’s a weird little episode, made stranger by our son now having an alias.
“What’s with the name?” my husband asked Coach Tony after the match.
“I had to give him a fake name; he was ineligible under his own name.”
At subsequent matches, Coach Tony was known to turn his chair so his back was to the kids on the mat whenever he was exasperated with their poor performance.
“GOOD NIGHT!” he would say and then turn his back. We all got the message. Our kid/s were too disgusting to even watch. They weren’t even worth yelling at. GOOD NIGHT. It became a family joke. Coach Tony was hilarious.
“I can’t eat that. I have to make weight.” My son turning down mac and cheese was cause for calling the cancer ward. What?
“He’ll just make me do more stairs.” Running stairs with sweats and winter jackets on constituted a big part of Coach Tony’s training program.
Not eating, making weight. I can’t stand this. Kids eating is a central feature of my parenting approach. I’m not saying I’m a good cook but I am committed to food and people eating, especially kids. I’m all about oatmeal and peanut butter and other kinds of really substantial food for kids. No PopTart has ever popped from my toaster.
Now Coach Tony’s glow is dimming. Really dimming. Why did he have to go mess up my role model dream?
The season went on. We went to many matches. We sat in the stands, sometimes all day for all-conference meets, ate sloppy joes out of the big Nescos, and watched our son go from playing tag on the mat to actually wrestling. It was interesting in a slice of life that has not much relevance to anything else kind of way.
At the end of the year, my son decided to be an actor (which he may have been practicing during his short wrestling career), and we went from sweaty, over-much gyms to dark little theatres.
We remembered this while we were driving in the car today, my grown-up son and I.