The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Ryan Hartwell
For the Courier 

Winning By Just Showing Up

 

Ryan Hartwell

Left to right: Taylon Hendry, Sharon Merideth, Michael Hendry and Michael Merideth.

It's an early Saturday morning as I walk into the high school gym. I take a deep breath, and the smell of wrestling mats engulf my nostrils. It smells like sweat, hard work, intensity, anxiety, confidence, determination, failure and success. It is one of those smells I have been conditioned to love, like a football locker room, a damp ski rental shop, or the inside of a sweaty-dirty baseball cap.

Kids ranging in age from four years old to middle school age are wrestling, testing their mat skills one-on-one in front of a packed crowd. Above the chatter of screaming coaches, and parents pushing and rooting on their kids, I see a boy enter the mat circle, and shake the hand of his opponent. The referee blows the whistle and the boy gets taken to his back and loses the match. In this glorious loss, however, is the single best victory I have personally witnessed in sports.

To explain, I have to rewind and take you back almost a year-and-a-half, to the start of last wrestling season. On the first day of practice, two young boys walk in with their grandma, Sharon Merideth. Both boys are wearing high top basketball shoes, but they kick them off and head downstairs to the mats in their socks.

Nothing special stands out about Grandma Sharon. She seems quiet and reserved, like she could fit into most crowds.

Taylon Hendry is a heavier-set kid, with big eyes and a great smile, while Michael Hendry is on the lankier side of the spectrum. Both boys have a shy and timid trait about them.

Grandma Sharon and both kids sit on the rolled up mat against the wall where parents, friends, and family sit to watch practice. As warm ups and stretching start, both kids are still parked next to grandma on the mat. The coaches begin to try to coax the kids out with all kind of strategies, but neither boy will even look up to make eye contact. I even try to lift the kids up and physically place them in line on the mat to stretch. That doesn't work as they both jump up and run back to Grandma Sharon. She looks at me and shrugs as if to say, "What else can we do?

At the end of practice, I notice them getting dressed upstairs. I think to myself,"Well. Grandma...nice try."I don't expect to see them again.

The next day I show up to practice and there is Grandma Sharon sitting with both kids in the same spot on the rolled up mat. The same process starts with coaches trying anything to motivate the kids to participate in practice, but all attempts end in vain. This continues for the whole week and the next. Eventually, the coaches stop trying and leave it up to the boys to come around. Oh, but Grandma Sharon does not give up or stop trying. She shows up day after day and sits with the boys to watch practice. I think to myself, "Why is she here? What is she accomplishing? Why just force these boys to watch practice?" My judgmental attitude and way of thinking will soon take a slap in the face. When this monumental slap happens I'll get my answer, which is: she loves them.

Grandma Sharon and the kids have become fixtures in the wrestling room, like decorative figurines on a coffee table. Another month has gone by and as I enter the wrestling room, I notice something is different. Grandma Sharon is sitting on the wall all by her self. I think, "Wow, Grandma Sharon must really like wrestling to come watch practice all by herself."Then, I turn around and see it. Both boys are running around the mat with the other kids. Their eyes are lit up with big smiles on their faces as they juke and jive playing a game of tag. Coach Morehouse signals for warm ups and stretching to start, and both kids run back to their usual spot by their grandma. It continues like this for a few more weeks, then they begin playing games with the coaches. When the coaches aren't looking, the boys run up and tackle a coach trying to bring him down. When the coach turns around they quickly scamper back to their spot by the wall. Sometimes they get caught though, which means they get taken to the mat for a quick pin or armpit tickle, then released so they can scurry back to safety. For the coaches, this is a little distraction, but a welcomed one.

A few weeks go by like this and it becomes the norm. The boys play tag before practice, and enjoy their silly here-and-their game time with coaches.

In the second-to-last week of the season, sandwiched just between the state competition and the Open, we compete at a local tournament in Wolf Point.

As I walk into the gym, I notice Grandma Sharon, Taylon, and Michael sitting in the stands. She made the 45-minute drive to Wolf Point with the boys to watch their Highlander brothers and sisters in competition. I tell them how happy I am to see them, and give both boys a high five. I watch them throughout the day and notice there is not a lot of interaction with other kids. They mostly sit next to their grandma and take in the tournament.

I swear I see interest in their eyes though. I see them moving back and forth watching the competition, seeing what these practices have lead up to. Their little brain neuron synapses firing at warp speed logging in all the information they are receiving.

At the next practice, Coach Morehouse signals for warm up laps to start. Sure enough, Taylon and Michael are running the laps. Some practices they don't finish but other times they will do the whole stretching circuit with the up-downs and mountain climbers. I even catch them tangling up on the side of the mat with each other. This is the pattern that takes hold.

The Open comes and the season ends and it seems like a failure to me, never able to get them practicing, working with other kids, or just barely running laps and finishing warm-ups. Poor Grandma Sharon spent three months coming to practice every day (I repeat: three months. Everyday!) and got dismal results, or so I thought.

It's a long wait but finally the next season starts. I'm down at the end of the hallway putting on my son Tyrus's wrestling shoes (which by the way, is the hardest part of being a wrestling parent). Then, in what seems like slow motion, Grandma Sharon grabs a hold of the front door and swings it open. Michael comes in with his head up looking around like he's been here before. Taylon, who still seems a little apprehensive, follows, and a plus one - another grandson, Michael Merideth. I notice something as they come down the stairs: They all have on wrestling shoes. Practice starts off with a bang for them as they make it through laps, warm ups, and working moves together on the side. A few weeks go by and it is all practice and no tournaments....yet.

The Glasgow Invitational is soon upon us and there are 400-plus kids at the tournament. As soon as I spot the three boys, though, they are the only three that stand out. Standing together are Taylon, Michael, and Michael all in singlets and sporting freshly cut wrestling mohawks.

Both Michaels place at the tournament, but Taylon is a different story. For the first round, he gets to the marshal area, but will not get on the mat and earns a forfeit. The next three rounds he actually gets on the mat, watches his opponent get his hand raised, and takes the forfeit. Most people would be embarrassed to watch their grandson bow out match after match for a whole tournament, but not Grandma Sharon. She meets him every time at the end of the mat and embraces him, telling him how proud she is. Truthfully, so are we as coaches.

We see what Sharon is doing and we are all in. It takes two more months before Taylon will put on the singlet again, but he gets on the mat for a full match. This one single momentous moment takes almost two full wrestling seasons to accomplish. Oh, how a loss can be such a winning moment, and it just took showing up day after day after day after day. The Michaels have gone on a tear and have placed in every tournament so far.

Every year I coach in various sports, I learn something new. I don't know if I have had a family member of an athlete influence me the way Sharon Merideth has.

She has not only made me a better coach, but also a better person, father and husband. Her dedication, compassion, and patience are at level 500 gazillion. A full year! Day after day just sitting and watching other kids practice while the two boys huddled up around her.

Patience. I know myself well enough to know I could not do that. I think I am safe to say 99.999 percent of people reading this could not persevere through that struggle. We consider our time too precious to show up time after time with no result.

Compassion. I use to hate it when my four year-old (now six) son would cry after a loss in wrestling. I would get upset and tell him to stop crying, take deep breaths and suck it up. Now, I welcome the crying. I want the crying. I want it to hurt after a loss. I don't want him to get comfortable with losing. How else is a six year-old going to handle emotion like that?

Now, I hug and hold him until the sobs stop then we try and learn from the loss and look forward to the next match.

Dedication. It is frustrating to open a weight room in the morning day after day with hardly any attendance. Now, I look at it as I might have to sit on the rolled up mat against the wall waiting. If Grandma Sharon could do it, I dang well better be able to.

Week after week, the coaching staff tries to build up the kids and get them ready to take on whatever they are going to face that coming weekend. Then, every Monday at practice, we hand out the awards from the previous weekend tournament. I feel like every trophy is a small representation of what we have put into the kids.

Grandma Sharon has influenced us all as coaches, making us better with the kids in the wrestling room. So, I feel that Grandma Sharon can look at every trophy given out and know that she is a part of each one. If there could be a first-place trophy in life, Sharon, I hand it to you. You win first place (which you know with those kids is a big deal.) You are the rock that doesn't move with the incoming flood waters. Your faith and love in family is something to model after. Thank you Grandma Sharon, for letting the Glasgow Wrestling Club be a part of that journey. You win just by showing up. But you also do so much more, making every person around you better.

 

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