Thoughts from the Big House

by Todd Brooks

OKLAHOMA CITY - Some random thoughts from the 2023 state wrestling tournament as I wait for the next session to begin:

n Wrestlers love warming up.  They seem almost obsessed with it. I remember playing football and the only good thing about warming up was it meant it was that much closer to game time. At the state tournament, the head table gets onto wrestlers out on the mat warming up when there are matches still going on other mats. They are given ample time to warm up within the designated time but it is still doesn’t stop some from trying to sneak in a few practice moves.

n There’s no crying in baseball but there is in wrestling and that’s okay. The tunnel at the end of the arena is where a lot of emotions spill out and for a lot of wrestlers, a disappointing defeat or your last match as a senior can bring out the tears of the toughest athlete. Sometimes, you will see wrestlers intentionally sitting alone with their thoughts thinking about what could have been and other times you will see them being consoled by a coach, teammate or parent.

nThe whistles to start the rounds can give you goose bumps. It may just be me but hearing music fading out and the announcer giving the referees the go-ahead to begin followed by whistle after whistle being blown on numerous mats is one of the coolest moments in sports.

n Some coaches provide free entertainment. Come for the wrestling and stay for the animated coaches who are living and dying on every move, giving demonstrations while barking out instructions and generally just going crazy.

n Hard life lessons are taught. This goes along with the second one about shedding tears. A wrestler does everything he possibly can do to put himself into a position to win a state title, but sometimes that’s not good enough. There’s a good chance the guy who beat you worked just as hard as you did. There’s a chance you can be dominating an opponent and a single slip or the slightest mental mistake and you find yourself looking up at the ceiling. That’s the way life works. No matter how many things you do right, all it can take is one mistake to wipe it away. That’s not being pessimistic, that’s being realistic.

n Wrestling fans can be stubborn. As a media member I don’t have to leave between sessions, so I see when the doors are open and the people flood into the arena. People are literally running to seats and there is a flurry of blankets being spread out across seats to save them. Problem is they are not supposed to save seats, the seats are to be first-come, first-serve. The head table will announce not to do that and their pleas go ignored. Security will come around and tell people to pick up their blankets off the seats. They will comply, but as soon as security leaves, they put them right back. Oh, and it’s not unheard of for a fight to break out in the stands between opposing fans. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens.

n The Big House’s days are numbered and I’m not sure how to feel. It could be as soon as next year that the Big House will no longer host the state tournaments in wrestling and basketball. There is a new arena being built and even if it is not completed, there’s a chance it will be held someplace else. There is a lot of history in Jim Norick Arena and it’s been a goal of many student-athletes over the years to be able to compete in the Big House. l

The building is past its prime. The walkways are narrow, barely wide enough for two people to pass each other in opposite directions. Add in people who run into their cousin from Poteau that they haven’t seen in a while then they stand there to catch up and it can cause a logjam. So ascetically speaking, it seems it is time, but there are a lot of memories and great moments under that dome, too.

n The girls tournament is fun to watch. There are a lot of stereotypes shattered on the mat and it’s good for female athletes to have an option other than basketball during winter sports. There are some good athletes out there, but they’re not built for basketball or they don’t have skills conducive for basketball. I know I didn’t. I couldn’t keep up on a fast break in basketball, but I could hold my own rolling around on a mat.

n Finally, congratulations to Kooper Doucet on bringing home a state championship. He wrestled a great tournament and deserved it.