Tom Justice, is a former assistant wrestling coach who helped lead Lock Haven University to four NCAA Division I All-Americans, three Eastern Wrestling League (EWL) Champions, eight PSAC Champions and 23 NCAA qualifiers during his tenure. Justice recently watched the new short wrestling film The Hardest Six (available on DVD) that features former assistant coach Bradley Pataky, and the movie's wrestling consultant and LH alumni Mike Mazza. Aside from positive reviews of the film, Justice shared his own story of how The Hardest Six took him back to his days as a high school coach in Colorado. This is his, Hardest Six story.
When I was at Woodland Park H.S. in Colorado, before I moved to Lock Haven, we were going into the season having to forfeit 2 weight classes, 180 & HWT, for every match. We were still winning, but starting 12 points down was tough.
So I talked this kid, Art Bash, who was a junior, into going out for the team. He actually was small for a 165 lber, and he had to eat several bananas before weigh-in-- just so he weighed enough to make 165. The rules allowed a guy to wrestle up ONE weight class. So that's how I got a 180 pounder.
Well, Art just got creamed. These big kids just wiped up the mat with him. We considered it a victory when he just lost by a decision against a bad kid. Usually he got pinned. Twice, however, he got wins for us-- when he was slammed by his opponents, injured, and we had to carry him off the mat. Ouch!
The next year, his senior year, we were getting ready to open the season with our own tournament at home. I got the guys together to talk to them before the competition started, and I looked around, and I asked, "Where's Art?"
The wrestlers told me that at the weigh-in he had looked at the big, muscular guys he would have to wrestle, and he got scared, so he left. He went home.
The following Monday I had a sit-down conversation with Art. I told him that I understood . . . I really did. But I also told him that he was getting better, that he was going to start to win. So I said, don't give up. And I also said I was never giving up on him; I was in his corner from start to finish, no matter what. I promised him, "I will show you how to win. You are going to win."
So Art didn't quit. And he started to win a few matches. Maybe his record was 50-50, but he was getting better and his confidence was growing.
THEN at the last match of the season we were facing our archrivals, Manitou Springs, for the conference title, AND Art had to wrestle this big stud who was defending conference champion and state qualifier.
If their kid won, they would win . . . because we were still forfeiting at HWT. We had a lead, but Art had to win for us to win.
SO . . . this guy was beating Art, but Art was hanging in there. He was wrestling tough. He was down by 3 in the third period, and both guys were on their feet facing each other. They got into a flurry and ended up in an over-under tie. And as it happened, this kid's back was to me, and Art was facing me. Our eyes met for just an instant, and then I hollered, "Throw!" But Art was already throwing.
He hit this kid with a waist and arm throw, and put him right on his back. He held him there until the end of the period, and so he won. Art won, and we won. When his arm was raised, the entire team rushed onto the mat and carried him off on their shoulders.
But the story doesn't end there. At the end of the school year, I was up in the weight room lifting weights [as I remember it, bent-over dumbbell rows with 125 lbs], and I heard foot steps on the stairs. It was Art.
He had come to say good-by. We sat down and talked for a bit . . . about wrestling and about his experience, what he learned. Then at the end he said, "Coach, I've made a decision. I'm joining the Marines."
Once again, I was amazed. And I just said, "Art, you're going to make a great Marine. My wife and kids-- the whole family-- we're going to sleep sound at night, knowing that you're on the line, protecting us."
So there you go. That's the Art Bash story. The Hardest Six.
Tom Justice's story of Art's triumph in the face of fear and uncertainty is just one of many stories that define the spirit of a wrestler, and what The Hardest Six attempts to capture on film. Check out this great short film for yourself at www.HardestSixMovie.com and then share with us your own Hardest Six story.