Wrestling duals never draw the crowds that, say, a high-stakes rivalry basketball game might.
In the case of Thursday night’s matchup between Stansbury and Tooele, perhaps they should.
It’s not so much that Stansbury and Tooele are so evenly matched — though they are. Coming into the Region 10 finale, it seems that the margin between the Stallions and Buffaloes is razor-thin. In talking to wrestlers on both sides this past weekend, both teams were confident in their chances, and it wasn’t just talk.
But it’s more about the fact that these wrestlers are good. They’re not just good within Tooele County. These are names you’ll see on the medal stand at the state tournament in February. It would surprise nobody to see both Tooele and Stansbury at or near the top of the team standings next month in Orem when the big trophy is handed out.
I get it. Wrestling’s not as glamorous a spectator sport as basketball is. The only time you see genuine wrestling on television is during the Olympics. The WWE is wrestling in name only — on Thursday night at Tooele High, you won’t see anyone get hit with a folding chair or get body-slammed through a mat-side table unless something goes horribly, horribly wrong.
But actual wrestling is entertaining in its own right. It’s often brutal — I’ve been covering the sport for 11 years now, and I still find myself cringing and thinking “arms and legs aren’t meant to go that direction” at least once or twice every time.
But that brutality makes it as much a mental game as it is physical. An average person would get put into one of those pretzel-like holds and merely give up. But a top wrestler doesn’t know the meaning of the word “quit.” Until they’re pinned or the time runs out, they’re all in, all the time.
I didn’t grow up around wrestling. Even in high school, after I gave up my own athletic career after a one-win season of junior-varsity tennis, I became the manager for the basketball team. Since wrestling wasn’t on TV, I didn’t really have an appreciation for the sport. I went to the wrestling tournaments to cheer for my friends, but didn’t really fully grasp what was going on.
But since then, I’ve definitely grown to enjoy the sport. I’ve covered top wrestlers in three states, so I know good wrestling when I see it.
Thursday’s match between Tooele and Stansbury certainly qualifies.
Yes, there are basketball games being played tonight. But even if it’s just for this one night, wrestling deserves to take center stage.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He’s embarrassed to admit what weight class he’d be in. Email him at email@example.com.