This week, in the middle of reading books, my wife asked me to tell a story to our daughter. I think my wife knows that my daughter won’t remember the words — or the message — but I’m guessing she wanted me to practice for when she does and that these dry runs might prove useful.
Given that it’s the holiday season, I thought of my family — specifically my four brothers — and what they meant to my development, specifically within wrestling.
My senior year in high school I had it in my head that I’d be a state champion. I wasn’t especially great at wrestling, having only picked up the sport as a freshman, but I’d placed at the state tournament the year before and was motivated by a teammate (who’d also placed) and believed that I could win a state title.
To get this done I trained hard and wrote messages of affirmation on the ceiling in my bedroom, on the mirror of the shared bathroom, and scribbled notes in all my homework. Come February of my senior year I was undefeated in my weight class and ranked second in the state. I was channeling Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret” before she or I knew the book existed! I kept a strict diet, never partied, and ran three times a week at 6 a.m. For lunch I’d eat a small sandwich, drink chocolate milk, and pop a vitamin pack I’d purchased at GNC.
Like most people obsessed with something I also tended to drone on at the dinner table about every possible inanity that may, or may not, affect my ability to earn that state title.
By February my year was going to plan. The district tournament was held at my high school, Brooke Point in Stafford, Virginia (Go Blackhawks!), with regionals the next weekend, and states the final weekend of the month. I was at home, I was motivated, and I was absolutely certain that my vision board simply told the future.
The district tournament was a big deal at our high school. Friends and frenemies alike showed up to watch the finals that night. The full offering of my brothers attended, along with my parents, paternal grandparents, girlfriend, girlfriend’s twin sister, girlfriend’s parents, and girlfriend’s maternal grandparents (who I certainly knew, but they lived in New Jersey and were well into their 80’s). There was also the Free Lance Star out of Fredericksburg, yearbook photographer, and a handful of teachers that I respected and whose classes I enjoyed.
The stands were filled and I was facing North Stafford’s Dustin Qualls, a (no joke) 6’5″ 145-pound wrestler with dyed Carolina blue hair. Their team was the best in our district, but I’d beaten him handily in the dual meet and felt well-prepared for the district finals. Sandwich eaten. Chocolate milk drank. Vitamins popped.
Unfortunately for me, Dustin had a coach who the season before had transferred down from a high school in Pennsylvania. Bill Swink, now well-known for his state champion and national contender programs at Colonial Forge, had just started coaching at North Stafford. In my style Coach Swink saw holes and like a good coach had learned Dustin up on a few simple ways to shut down what middling offense I had, and how to ride me from one end of the mat to the other.
I don’t remember much of the match, but I’ve never forgotten the feeling of panic and the dread. By the third period I was more than five points out of the match with no clear understanding of what to do to score. Whatever tools I had at my disposal had been nullified by Thing No. 1 and was left to flounder — my shot attempts looking like a toddler lunging forward and grasping at air as his brother palms his forehead and chuckles.
The match ended, and I stood stunned as they raised Stringbean’s hand in front of my mother, father, four brothers, paternal grandparents, girlfriend, girlfriend’s twin sister, girlfriend’s parents, girlfriend’s 80-year-old maternal grandparents, teachers, students, friends and frenemies.
I jogged to the other side of the mat to shake Coach Swink’s hand and then sprinted to my side, leaping past the seats on the basketball floor, running until I hit the chilly night air.
I unstrapped my singlet and looked out at the lights of the football field and sobbed. Partly from the embarrassment and partly in fear that all that hard work had gone to utter waste. The 6 a.m. sprint workouts on the treadmill, the extra takedowns every day at practice, the caloric restriction, and the absolute realignment of what was focusing my life. And it should be mentioned that I was still in limbo about what college I was going to attend! Who would want a guy who couldn’t win at the district tournament, I thought.
My coach, a kind man named Mike Smoot, lumbered outside after the next match and got me to recompose myself. He didn’t say much. He kind of just chuckled and said some things about chalking it up to a learning experience and getting him next week. But he did end on a helpful quip. He told me that in his estimation I was too high strung. “Go eat a cheeseburger,” he said then laughed and walked inside.
I eventually recomposed myself and went back to the gym. After the finals I chatted with family and friends about the match, too glum to smile and wanting only to climb into my bed and hope this was all a horrible nightmare.
Bedtime came, and I remember sleeping hard — the only payoff for an emotional and physically taxing day. The next morning, I woke up around 7 a.m. to help my brothers and father build an extension on our home. We were hanging joists and the entire family was expected to be outside by 7:30 a.m. (probably earlier) to pitch in.
I laid in bed for a moment and looked at my ceiling and winced as I read “Tim Foley 145-pound STATE CHAMPION” staring back at me. My stomach sank. I dreaded the thought of leaving my room, much less going to school on Monday.
I finally roused myself and planned for the bathroom, knowing that those same words would be written in on the mirror. I steeled myself and opened the door.
The door to the bathroom was closed, but it was adorned with a newspaper clipping from that morning’s Free Lance Star sports section, “Foley loses as North Stafford takes district title.” Accompanying the headline was a photo of a 6’5″ high schooler with blue hair pushing me around the mat.
I’d have cried from anger, but at that same time my dad yelled upstairs for me to get my butt outside and my brother walked by and punched me in the side.
And so the day started. My brothers harangued me for the next ten hours, “You know who COULD reach that joist? Dustin Qualls,” and “T, if you’d dyed your hair would it have negated his power?”
Anyway, the lesson was simple: nobody cares. You don’t get a pass on the day’s work, or playful ribbing just because you lost a match. You’re loved, we support you, but you’re not special or to be treated differently because you lost (though I did win my school’s end-of-the-year sportsmanship award for not freaking out, so that’s something!).
So that’s the story I told my daughter and one of the stories I think about when I think about my brothers during the holidays, their candor and that unique sibling way of saying, “I love you.”
To your questions …
Q: Higher NCAA finish: Vito Arujau (Cornell) at 125 pounds or RBY (Penn State) at 133 pounds?
— Mike C.
Foley: Wonderful question with which to take bets! I’m a believer in both of them but will give the edge to RBY!
Q: I’m watching Penn State maul Arizona State here and thinking why not flip the script on stalling? Instead of a stalling call, award an aggression point to the offensive wrestler. It’s a bit of a spin on the freestyle rule of a step out which rewards the aggressor and places emphasis on aggressive wrestling rather than penalizing someone for doing nothing. Even the freestyle rule is flawed because it’s arguably a tactic to be less aggressive first as matches are often decided on two shot clocks when the last point wins. This also rewards offensive wrestling and not just the person doing just a bit more than the other wrestler, which is when you’ll often see a stall call. Make the wrestler earn that point through action, not through their opponent’s inaction! Thoughts?
— Andy S.
Foley: Andy, you got it! Check out the Greco-Roman rules! They are made to benefit aggressive wrestling. Also, with freestyle the attempts and techniques do tend to be rewarded, whereas in college wrestling the final control is the most valued of the maneuvers. For example, if I throw someone for what would be a five-point freestyle move, on a college mat, I’d also need to control them. In essence, I’d have to think about how to control after the throw BEFORE I attempt the throw.
I like the creativity but my concern about awarding a direct point for “aggression” is that there might be some gaming of that system, too. We already see a lot of half shots to draw stalling calls, would that be relieved by awarding an aggression point? It’s unclear, but I’m suspicious!
Q: Thoughts on Jack Mueller pulling his redshirt and competing at 125 pounds? Where do you see him fitting into the national landscape at 125 pounds?
— Mike C.
Foley: Jack Mueller has pulled his redshirt and moved to 125 pounds and Louie Hayes is up to 133 pounds. There was an injury in the lineup and the wrestlers and Coach Garland thought that Mueller was prepared for the season and that the team would perform well with his leadership.
Sometimes the best laid-out plans need adjustment and the U.Va. coaching staff is doing their best to adapt.
As for Mueller, I don’t think many 125-pound wrestlers are happy to hear he’s back in the national conversation. He’s brutal on top, has been training with less stress and comes into the season with just over a semester remaining to make the podium.
Mueller won his first outing on Thursday night, beating his Mizzou opponent by fall and looked every bit the part of an All-American wrestler!
Rivalries of 2018
History Makers of 2018
Q: Could Nick Nevills transfer at midseason like Mason Smith just did from Arizona State to Campbell University?
— Robert G.
Foley: I don’t understand how Mason Smith transferred midseason, unless he never actually enrolled at Arizona State (he came from Central Michigan) and was therefore able to start because he never wrestled a match.
My instinct says “absolutely not” unless there are unforeseen, behind-the-scenes developments which the larger wrestling community doesn’t know about.
Q: What was the biggest wrestling story of 2018? Biggest internationally and domestically.
— Mike C.
Foley: On the international side the buildup towards the rematch between Abdulrashid Sadulaev and Kyle Snyder was probably the biggest storyline, followed by Frank Chamizo’s ongoing rivalry with Jordan Burroughs.
On the domestic side I think it’s the ongoing domination of the Penn State wrestling program.
Q: What is the difference between Division I, Division II, Division III, NAIA, and WCWA?
— Gregg Y.
Foley: I answered this question about one year ago.
Division I athletes tend to receive full athletic scholarships. Division II athletes can receive full athletic scholarships, but mostly see partial athletic scholarships. Division III athletes cannot receive athletic scholarships. Also, Division I schools must sponsor seven men’s sports and seven women’s sports, while Division II must sponsor five men’s sports and five women’s sports.
The NAIA is a wholly different association of colleges and universities with the ability to grant partial scholarships.
There is much more to the distinction (and ways to receive a fully paid education) at each level, but in broad terms the amount of athletic scholarship and spending is the biggest distinguisher.
As for the WCWA that is the Women’s College Wrestling Association, which oversees women’s college wrestling in the United States and parts of Canada.