SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 26TH… The finals of the 2021 Beach Wrestling World Series were decided this afternoon, on the Romanian coast of the Black Sea. The nine Americans still here watched from the bleachers.
That nine included five young athletes who spent a ton of money and went through weather delays and COVID restrictions to get here. They wrestled their hearts out against the finest on the planet.
Then, the party began ! I got to watch and hear five American ‘Contributors’ celebrate being in Constanta, with ‘Contributors’ from a dozen or so nationalities.
Each and every competitor here set the medals and trophy cups aside, licked their wounds, and appreciated one another honestly. These events fuel my personal belief that the Beach discipline has a big future, not only for our sport but for what sport means to humanity.
Much of the credit for my huggy-feely sentiment is due the Romanian Wrestling Federation. These folks do it right… and for the right reasons. They are a people-first organization. They honor every volunteer, every athlete, every delegation member. Thanx, Romania !
Our bus rolls at midnight, getting us to the Bucharest airport around 3:00am. The first flight, carrying Americans, leaves at 6:10. I know my ‘Travel Day Trepidation’ will set in. We all have test results and a mountain of paperwork. We just have to see what new surprises Big Brother has cooked up for us over the last few hours.
As we nap on the bus, I’m gonna’ bask in the warm glow of tonight’s celebration. Wrestling always eases our daily burden. Thanx, Wrestling !
Photo: Wrestlers spray each other with champaign at conclusion of Constanta Beach World Series event.
Saturday, September 25 - Chapter 19: World Series
Not whinin’, just sayin’, I am being inducted tonight into New Mexico Activities Association’s Hall of Fame. And I’d rather be here. Let me tell you why.
I am surrounded by incredible humans, who are either doing or have done incredible things. I had lunch today with an Olympic Champion, the presidents of three national federations, two members of the UWW Beach Wrestling Commission and a couple of the finest referees in the history of the sport.
The highlight of the day, though, was spending a chunk of it with some brilliant young Americans. I learned what I already should have seen: “Everybody has their own back-story”. Wrestlers have some amazing ones.
We have two women representing the United States, in Tiaira Scott and Breanna Stikkleman. Both have used wrestling to positively impact their personal lives and development. Details are always personal, but these are amazing. Trust me.
Add our three guys: Jamal Morris, Tony Raupp and Michael Peters. All three have found success at the collegiate level, but in vastly different regions and divisions. Jamal is a graduate of NC State. Tony competed for Minot State in North Dakota. Michael still has eligibility at Marysville.
All five have made considerable sacrifices to be on the Black Sea coast today. All five have overcome severe adversity, yet seem to thrive. All five make me proud to be American and proud to stand with them, as they pursue their individual goals.
The other American that has made an impression is Kenneth (Buck) Timbs of Georgia. Buck was assigned by USWOA to officiate these three World Championship events. Having never seen Beach Wrestling, he made the personal choice to study his butt off.
Buck has had a great tournament. He has demonstrated a superior willingness to learn, and there are some damned fine teachers here. His jovial personality has made him a favorite among the more experienced referees. Buck has already expressed his new-found enthusiasm for Beach Wrestling and has committed to working toward the development of the style.
As the Old Guy, it’s a real treat to be around this group of young Americans. Fighting through the craziness we are living, I find hope in their level of dedication. Thanx !
As for the Hall of Fame thing, let me go on record. I am flattered and deeply appreciative. To be recognized by one’s peers is never to be taken lightly. Eva is there, along with New Mexico’s USA Wrestling State Chair Evan Copeland. In my absence, I hope I’m walkin’ my talk.
I’ve been told NMAA is honoring me, a little bit, for being a pretty good referee. Most of it, I’m told, is for hangin’ around and teaching great, upcoming officials. If there’s any truth to that at all, then I need to be right where I am.
Friday, September 24 - Chapter 18: Juniors
Zoe Hussar wrestled well today, at 70kg, in the Beach Wrestling Junior World Championship. Going one and two, Zoe did not come out of her pool.
Zoe joined three American women who competed in the Cadet Worlds, yesterday. 2021 is the first time the United States has been represented in the age-group divisions of the Beach Wrestling World Championships as a team. These young women have carved their names in the wall of American Wrestling pioneers.
There’s a wonderful symbiotic relationship growing here. It’s clear that every American that has given Beach Wrestling a fair shot has fallen in love with its unique style and atmosphere. Coaches are realizing the benefits of the beach environment in the development of a complete wrestling arsenal.
It is equally clear that the wresting world is falling in love with American Beach competitors. USA Wrestling’s Director of Communication, Gary Abbott, and I have been with Beach Wrestling since its inception. The question has always been, “Why are there not more Americans ?”
This week, we are hearing, “Wow ! Your American kids are really exciting, We are so glad you are here.”
The other common statement is, “We are anxious to compete in the western hemisphere. Will the U.S. host a Beach World Series event ?”
Actually, our hemisphere’s two UWW Beach Commission members, our Ed Duncan and Brazil’s Pedro Gama, will attack that idea Monday. Both share the view that anything called the “World” Series, must include competition on multiple continents.
To their credit, several eastern European countries have developed, as powerhouses, over the last few years. However, one has to notice that it’s easier to attract top caliber athletes to events in their ‘own backyard’.
Today, we saw 16 matches in the finals, each gender times four weights, bronze and gold. Get this: Romania had 15 athletes in 16 bouts. Home field advantage, much ?
So, I leave you with this: You know, and I know, just how deep and wide American wrestling talent reaches. To get the world to come to us, we have to go to them. The American kids, who braved the insanity to be in Romania, are carving a path. It’s up to us to follow.
Four Age-group Women in Romania... Clockwise, beginning at 1:00, Izzy Carrington, Lilly Luft, Bella Hoffman, Zoe Hussar. Photo by Britney Carrington.
Thursday, September 23 - Chapter 17: Cadets
The United States of America was well represented today, at the 2021 Cadet World Championship of Beach Wrestling, Constanta, Romania. Capping off a frigid day, on the Black Sea, Lilly Luft earned a trip to the bronze-medal match at 60 kg.
Luft was defeated in that match, placing 4th. I have some refereeing in me, so I’m careful with my criticism. Suffice it to say, and I believe in my heart, Lilly did not suffer from malice. She did suffer from incompetence. If you watch the video, you can decide for yourself. (Beach Video is available on FloWrestling)
Bella Hoffman (50 kg) and Izzy Carrington (70 kg) also competed well for the Red, White, and Blue. Both wrestled well. Neither placed.
The host Romanians won the Women’s Team Title. Turkey won the men’s title. The U.S. did not field any male competitors.
Bella Hoffman will bump up to the Juniors age group, tomorrow, with medial approval required by UWW. She is joined by Zoe Hussar at 70kg.
Our Senior level athletes are still trickling in. So far, we have all fought successfully against the travel nonsense. Everyone is finding a way.
In that vein, this is the first time the United States has fielded Cadet or Junior teams at the Beach Worlds. I, for one, take a great deal of pride in what these families have accomplished.
Beach Wrestling is… REALLY… something we all need to get used to talking about ! Thanx to countless leaders, in the advancement of Women’s Wrestling, many American pioneers just happen to be female.
There’s my segway: How ‘bout them Hawkeyes ! You must imagine the thrill that the American girls and their families experienced today. Hearing of Iowa’s addition of Women’s College Wrestling was a real, touchable reward for what these girls are pouring from their souls.
Earlier, I mentioned the frigid weather. It was just, flat out, cold today ! Picture fans wearing parkas and beanies, braving a fierce wind at 58 degrees, watching Beach Wrestling’s future compete. If you can’t love that, go buy a basketball !
Wednesday, September 22: Chapter 16: Constanta, Day 1
That ‘Trepidation Thing’ bit us hard. The good news is all our Cadets and Juniors are in Constanta. The bad, it was a nightmare getting us here.
The current state of insanity really makes traveling internationally a crap shoot. You find people, working for institutions and corporations, who have doubled their commitment to ‘Customer Service’. Then, you find those ‘gunslingers’, drunk with power, anxious to assert what they think is their authority.
Isabella Hoffman and her dad, Richard, arrived in Constanta Monday, seemingly without a hitch. Lilly Jo Luft and her dad, best I can tell, made the connection we were supposed to share, out of Amsterdam.
I’m traveling with Kenneth (Buck) Timbs, USWOA’s assigned referee. Our flight from Atlanta was delayed four hours. That meant we missed our Amsterdam connection. We finally arrived in Constanta, late Tuesday night.
I checked in, in Albuquerque, being asked only for my passport. Yes, I had my mountain of paperwork in hand. The man assigned to check our paperwork, in Atlanta, asked Buck and me, “Are you vaccinated?”. We replied in the affirmative, no paperwork mind you, and he stamped our boarding passes.
Isabell Carrington and her parents found that ‘other guy’, in Chicago. Their recently purchased PCR tests, seemingly, were about 75 hours old. They were denied boarding. A hotel night and a substantial cost later, they made their way to Constanta.
All this makes it difficult for our hosts. I do have to tell you, Romania is treating people well. They’ve done this before and it shows !
That said, I still have to haggle with them over our fees. UWW rules require everyone registered through their data base (Athena) to pay for a minimum of three days / nights meals and lodging.
The problem is that, when our National Teams Department registers our Athletes and Coaches in Athena, they enter Arrival and Departure dates. The Romanian Federation has no idea who’s renting cars, who’s leaving early (for tourism), or which age group athletes are moving into much cheaper hotels with their parents.
The fact that all these individuals and families are funding their tour means that I have to collect payments from each of them before I can settle up with our hosts.
The negotiation that results is, to put it mildly, tricky. I have to respect our hosts’ effort and expense. Yet, I also have an obligation to American families who are sacrificing greatly to have their kid represent us.
Our Cadet Women weigh in tomorrow (Thursday) morning. Thanx to Britney Carrington for helping me get uniforms distributed tonight. I know she and her husband are tired and beat up from ‘The Game’.
Tuesday, September 21 – Chapter 15: Olympic Study
Still in transit, Amsterdam to Bucharest, I have time to share a summary of my meeting an amazing group. This took place, last week, in Katerini.
A group of 20 high school students and their chaperones were visiting from Paris. The delegation were hand-selected participants in an amazing educational experience, funded by a combination of government grant and private money.
The hinge-pin of the grant is the 2024 Olympic Games, hosted in Paris. Educators devised and developed a three-year curriculum, incorporating travel to all twenty-two cities that have hosted Summer Games.
The students happened to be on their visit to Athens, host of the first modern games and 2004, while the Beach World Series was in Katerini. One of the lead educators, as luck would have it, is a wrestler. So, naturally, the group extended their Athens visit to include wrestling.
During our Opening Ceremonies and Parade, I had the chance to visit with the entire group, in depth. What a treat it is to know that other educators around the planet see the value of Olympism in a well-rounded education !
Throughout my 47 years in the classroom, I have always capitalized on the gifts that Olympism offers, regardless of subject matter or age. Imagine, not only the academic, but the ethical and social skills these students will hone. Traversing five continents in three years is going to produce life-long learners / contributors.
One of the writers of the project also happens to be one of those private contributors. Now, get this… she is the fourth Great Granddaughter of the Baron Pierre de Coubertin. De Coubertin, himself an educator, is credited as the founder of the modern Olympic Games.
As we visited, I learned that Diane was born in Paris, educated in New York, and is back in France, paying it forward. She mentioned, several times, that being a descendant of de Coubertin is not only an honor but a responsibility. Wow !
Being introspective, I have to celebrate my own luck as a parent and educator. Olympism has been a driving force for me. I get to share, with teenagers, the depth of human experience it provides. I am able to ‘Walk an Educational Walk’ rather than simply talking the talk.
The Paris group will visit the United States in 2022. They’ve got to experience St Louis (1904), Los Angeles (1932, 1984, 2028), and Atlanta (1996). They may try to sneak in Lake Placid and Salt Lake City, too.
We already started plans for them to visit Grants, New Mexico, for a couple of days, along the way. We can offer them the best of Native American culture, set in our tri-cultural blend. We are a stone’s throw from the Grand Canyon, on the way to LA..
I arrive in Constanta tonight, along with a few members of the U.S. delegation. We’ll start getting the American ball rolling, then receive more of our members Wednesday and Thursday.
Monday, September 20: Chapter 14: Romania
After a really hectic week, I’m back at the airport. My Travel Day Trepidation is multiplied by 20 today. That’s the number of athletes, coaches family members, friends representing the United States this week.
Besides catching up with my own classroom and family chores, after two weeks on the road, much of this week has been preparation. Not only the Final of the 2021 UWW Beach World Series is on tap for this weekend in Constanta, Romania. Constanta is also hosting the Beach World Championship for Cadets and Juniors.
It’s exciting that the United States is fielding our largest delegation ever. After losing a whole year to the ‘Rona’, folks in all Beach Wrestling nations are capitalizing on opportunity. It’s really cool to watch this exciting presentation of wrestling skills find its way. I believe there are big things on the horizon !
It’s also quite difficult to piece all this tour together. All of the participants schedule and finance their own participation. At this point Beach Wrestling has not yet achieved full inclusion in our federation’s menu.
Add the travel issues presented by the ‘Rona’, it’s quite a task. We already had our first two arrivals, a daughter and father team, delayed and rescheduled.
Our Romanian hosts are coping with their own new problems. When this event was scheduled, there were several easy itineraries, directly into Constanta (on the Black Sea). With the dent that the ‘Rona’ hammered into tourism, most of those fights disappeared. Almost every delegation, certainly Americans, now have fly into Bucharest, a two and a half hour bus ride to and from Constanta.
So, you see, getting us all in, over the next four days, then getting us out, will be the test. While we are in Constanta, the weather will be cool, the competition will be hot, and the hospitality will be first class.
I am filled with gratitude, once again. I get to volunteer to be part of a delegation of folks who love wrestling the way it deserves to be loved. I get to visit a nation who values the sport and believes in treating visitors well.
The trepidation comes with our current absence of normality. That’s no one’s fault, but we’re all sucked into it. Once the big bird leaves the ground (mine is in Atlanta), all will be well. I hope Delta has “The Martian” on their movie menu.
Beach Wrestling action shot courtesy of BeachWrestling.org
Sunday, September 12 - Chapter 13: The "Why"
Travel day trepidation. In this new world order, standing in line to check in for a flight is a frightening experience. I was lucky today. I had the right mountain of paperwork and collection of screen shots.
I’m through security in Thessaloniki, knowing I’ll get at least as far as Munich. I have just over an hour there and must go through the ‘Additional Security Measures’, required for all flights bound for the States.
Over the last two weeks, I have answered a ton of questions that all start with the word, “Why”. And it’s not just me. It seems like every conversation and every participant has their own unique list of “Whys”.
United World Wrestling has a media team specifically designated to cover Beach Wrestling. Listening to the interviews, most the athletes are asked Why they got off the mat and into the sand.
The majority have two answers: They feel like it’s helping them get better on the mat; and they get paid for their performance. This is not all that strange, from an American perspective. Our National Team members receive a training stipend. We also have systems, within our program, that reward performance.
It just makes us a little jealous, knowing our opponents and peers are at these events on their federation’s dime. The media team absolutely could not believe that Michael Peters and his dad are spending their own money.
The two of them, staying in Europe for a month to compete in three World Series events, are spending the equivalent of an annual salary for many of Michael’s opponents. Michael is a really quiet guy. When asked why, he simply responds, “I feel like Beach Wrestling is helping me with my college performance and I love to wrestle”.
I get my own “Whys”, from referees, delegation leaders and organizers. “Why”, they ask, “do I pay my own way to be here ?”
You see, I’ve been really lucky. From 2015 to 2019 the bulk of my travel expenses were covered, as referee instructor for UWW.
After the ANOC World Beach Games, 2019, I reached the mandatory retirement age. It never occurs to members of other delegations that any of us pay our own way.
My answer starts simply, “I love wrestling”. But, there’s more. Beach Wrestling is my second “Foster Child”. My first was Women’s Wrestling, back in the 80’s. I had to answer a lot of ‘Whys”, for a decade or so. Not so much, recently !
In the early 2000s, I took the risk and invested my efforts in Beach Wrestling. I believe, in the depths of my soul, that Beach Wrestling is a vital component in the evolving wrestling menu.
Commitment is always synonymous with a certain willingness to pay a price. So, I scrimp and I save, and I take time off without pay. I’m committed to the future of Beach Wrestling.
That the answer to my own personal “Why”, and I’m stickin’ to it.
Saturday, September 11 - Chapter 12: Katerini Day 2
Once again, a quiet thought for all of us on this day. I have already been in communication with all 17 of the students who spent the day in my classroom, 20 years ago. They are all doing well, raising healthy families. We love each other.
I hope you are excited about the kick-off of our World Team Trials. What an exciting time ! Everyone here is talking about us. All agree that the United States may be assembling the most talented group in the history of the sport. Good luck to all !
Michael Peters finished fifth in this third stop of the 2021 Beach Wrestling World Series. Michael put himself in great position to be pulled into the semis. A last second throw gave the Portuguese kid an additional classification point, locking Peters out.
Ukraine, Georgia, and Romania continue to dominate Beach Wrestling with depth of performance. Azerbaijan and Pakistan are rising stars as their best athletes begin to coach and bring along partners.
I have already followed Rule One: Pack Before you Party ! My personal party, though, will be to finish this and get a little sleep. My ground transfer, to Thessaloniki Airport, is at 4:30am.
I explained to several of my ‘inviters’ that pulling the all-nighter is not an option for me. I have been their age. They have not been mine.
Good Night from Katerini !
Friday September 10 - Chapter 11: Katerini Day 1
There was a parade through downtown Katerini tonight. We were the parade !
One of the cool things about wrestling in smaller cities is that hosting a tournament is a Big Deal to its citizens. The 10 countries represented in the World Series, along with several European countries here for the Cadets and Juniors, marched about a kilometer through Katerini’s central shopping district this evening.
We carried our country plaques and flags, as children in strollers, parents and grandparents, people on their way home, shopkeepers watched and applauded. It was way cool to have sport be valued at such a personal level.
When we reached the town square, we listened to speeches from the Mayor, Sport Commissioner, Federation President, and a couple of other apparent big dogs.
Speaking of dogs… I’m not joking… several well-fed strays inhabit the parade path and square. One old pooch adopted the entire group and made the march with us. Watching the dog languish in the attention he got was touching. Watching world class athletes, unanimously, show such open-hearted compassion for a fellow creature… priceless !
Michael Peters wrestled well today, in the opening two rounds. He held solid, inside position and scored against the Romanian that skunked him, last week. Michael destroyed a Greek opponent and will face a second Greek, in the morning.
With three pools of four, at 70 kg, we need to roast this next guy. To build the semis, the winner of each pool is joined by the highest scoring second place. Peters deserves to be confident.
From Katerini, Greece, we three Americans wish the best to all those competing for World Team spots, tomorrow and Sunday. Keep a smile in your heart for the memories of September 11th.
Thursday, September 9th -Chapter 10: Peters seeded 2nd
Michael Peters, of Quincy, Illinois, is seeded number two in the 70 kg bracket. We are in Katerini, Paralia, Greece for the third leg of the 2019 World Series of Beach Wrestling.
The World Series incorporates an intricate system of point accrual, determining seeded athletes in each event. Suffice it to note that the system rewards consistency of effort, as well as placement. Peters has been a fixture in Beach Wrestling since 2017.
The second seed basically gets Michael his own pool of four. Beach Wrestling uses four-person pools, wrestled round-robin. This guarantees that most athletes get a minimum of three handshakes.
With twelve athletes in the men’s 70kg bracket, nobody is forced into the dreaded ‘Knockout’ round. This eliminates athletes, after a single bout, until an ‘Ideal’ number (divisible by four) is achieved. We all hate the idea but, for now, it’s the rule.
Levan Kelekhsashvili, Georgia, maintains the top seed at 70kg. Oleksii Boruta, Ukraine, is seeded third.
I know Michael is ready to sleep. He and Coach / Dad, Donnie, had a tough day of travel from Rome. They arrived at the Thessaloniki airport, a few minutes later than their 5:15 schedule. The Portuguese delegation got in half an hour later.
Both groups waited for their ground transport to arrive. When it did, they found themselves 19 people, plus luggage, in a 15 passenger van. One of the adventurous realities of the wrestling lifestyle is that this is not at all unusual.
We got ‘em checked into their hotel, about 9:30, then walked ‘em to the other hotel, serving dinner. Michael was about a full kilo under, so he hammered the salad and pasta portions of the meal.
Before I put Chapter 10 and myself to bed, I need to take note that today is September 9th. Both the World Team Trials and Beach Wrestling will be active on Saturday.
It is required of all of us to pay our respects to the events of September 11, 2001. All of us that lived that day have our own, personal memories. We also share a collective consciousness. Please accept my personal regards as a member of that collective.
Wednesday, September 8th - Chapter 9: New Sign Language
Tomorrow morning, early, we will drive to Katerini. It's a long hour from Evosmos. We met for coffee today with a couple of local officials to coordinate travel plans.
During the conversation, it occurred to me just how much multi-lingual conversations depend on sign. I’m fascinated with the process of the formal language of International Sign. This, though, is informal. I suppose you’d call it the ‘Street Language’ of sign.
It’s the foundation of the ‘Emoji’ culture. Historically, two fingers meant ‘Victory’, after the second war. In the sixties, it became ‘Peace’. A flat hand, palm down, means ‘So-So’. Thumbs up is ‘I’m OK’. Middle finger… well, you know.
Here we are, 2021, coffee in Greece, planning a wrestling trip. One guy pinched his thumb and index finger. Raising them near one nostril, he twisted back and forth. He was asking the others, “Will we have to have a COVID test ?” The answer was a Thumbs Up… Yes.
So, he curled two fingers, index and middle, and raised them towards his opposite shoulder. Plunging his thumb toward the fingers, he asked, “Even if I am vaccinated?” Yes.
Another guy jumped in. He raised both hands, face high. Pinching all his fingers together, he expanded them and swooped his ears. The question was, “Will we have to wear masks ?” He got an age-old response… a simple shrug of the shoulders.
Realizing that elementary-aged kids world-wide are fluent in this new sign language, my trepidation spiked. Returning to my guest-house after the meeting, I turned on BBC to catch up on the news. Bad idea !
From what I can gather, the Taliban is controlling everything except COVID. COVID is impacting everyone except the Taliban. But, Britney Spears has regained control of her estate. I feel safer already.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 7TH… Thessaloniki, a city of just over a million, is split into neighborhoods or boroughs. I’m staying at Stilianos Kanidis’ guest flat in Evosmos.
One day a week, each neighborhood closes an area amounting to about 15 square blocks, and sets up a bazaar. Tuesday is bazaar day in Evosmos.
I heard the ruckus from my second floor flat, right at six Tuesday morning. All personal vehicles must be out of the streets by six, or face heavy fine. The trucks and vans and motorcycles pulling trailers roll in quickly.
I took my time, with coffee on the balcony, marveling at the scene. Kanidis and his wife, Eleni, both worked today, so I was on my own. By 7:30 a.m., everything was set up.
There were tables and tents and troughs full of crushed ice. Fresh produce tables were next to barrels of rice and beans and herbs. There were leather goods and lingerie, socks and T-shirts, books and cosmetics.
My favorite area, though, was the block and a half of seafood. All that crushed ice created tray beds for fish. While the aroma was predictable, I watched… amazed… at the art of the knife. I guess being from the arid southwest, I don’t get to watch the preparation of fresh fish often enough.
By 8:30 my trepidation eased, as I watched a few thousand shoppers pack the streets. Little old ladies opened their folding, wheeled basket-carts, and off they went. Young parents, pushing strollers, appeared more interested in the walk than the hunt.
Families were thoughtfully stocking up on their fresh produce for the week. Moms were haggling with vendors for back-to-school socks and underwear. The old men filled the tiny tables of every corner café, drinking coffee and summarizing the last week. I joined them.
After my cappuccino, I sauntered the produce streets. While the smells were amazing, it was the ‘Song’ I enjoyed most. Each vendor, especially the guys, hawk their wares with a chant. From the middle of the block, I could hear at least twenty voices. What an incredible urban song of life !
By two o’clock, this afternoon, they were gone. The street cleaners hosed and swept everything down, by three. Tomorrow, another neighborhood hosts the bazaar.
I treated myself to another cappuccino and just kinda’ processed the day. The term ‘Joy’ comes to mind. I scribbled on a couple of post-cards and found the post office.
Monday, September 6 - Chapter 7: Alexander
Happy Labor Day ! I hope you celebrate family and friends.
Alexander the Great was born and raised, not far from Thessaloniki. He’s a pretty big deal here. The man died at 32, yet he conquered everything he saw.
I’ll let you do your own history lesson. But, seeing images of Alexander all over town reminds me of a few good quotes and one of my favorite wrestling stories.
My first Alexander quote is dedicated to the public and private educators. Teachers make up a sizeable portion of USA Wrestling’s membership. While western states have been in school for a couple of weeks, many northeastern states see kids for the first time on Tuesday.
Alexander said, “I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well”. He studied under Aristotle as an adolescent.
I’m sure my fellow teachers join me in celebrating some kind of return to normalcy. Having real people in the classroom is vital to the success of civilized society. This quote is to wish each of you a prosperous school-year.
Don’t take me wrong… I’m not talking about teaching kids ‘Stuff’. If we’ve learned anything, over the last 18 months, it’s this. “Kids don’t go to school to learn ‘Stuff’. Form your own opinion, about that. All I ask is that you consider the impact of activities and sports have on the development of our future.
Many of you can summarize Alexander’s last words, as he faced a young death of disease. The first time I heard the story, it was the legendary Coach Bruce Burnett telling it.
I got to hear Coach Burnett tell the story six or seven times. He always sensed the perfect time to share it, during elite training settings. He shared Alexander’s last words with men, in their prime… plus or minus Alexander’s age. Many of these men, like Alexander, had already conquered everything they’d seen.
I’ll paraphrase, but the story goes like this. Near the end, Alexander asked that the path to his burial site be strewn with gold and jewels… his own material wealth. The point, he reminded his generals, is that, no matter what you win, conquer, earn, you can’t take it with you.
Not much later, Alexander gave the order that it would be his physicians who must carry his casket to the site. “They have eased my pain and giving me comfort”, he said. “But, no matter how they try, physicians cannot prevent us from dying.”
Alexander’s final words went something like this. “Leave my casket unsealed, with both my hands hanging from it. I want the world to know that the one who won it all was born with his hands empty and died with his hands empty”.
He was right. You really can’t take it with you.
Sunday, September 5 - Chapter 6 - Thessaloniki
Today was another travel day. As such, it offered that certain calm that comes with anonymity. When travelling solo, we become another ant in the hill. We typically follow a sound, pre-established routine and solve one small problem, then another.
By eight o’clock, this morning, my sense of trepidation was back. The pre-established routine is non-existent in this new era of insanity. Yesterday’s rules and expectations are obsolete.
I learned, at the Aegean Air ticket counter that one must present a PLF QR code to board a plane to Greece. But, it can’t be the EU PLF that one showed to enter Italy. Even though Greece is a member of the EU, they don’t recognize the EU PLF. You must apply for and receive the exact same document, issued by the Greek government.
Getting off the plane in Athens, actually took longer than boarding in Rome. Every passenger zig-zagged their way through the station and strap line barriers. After about twenty minutes, you get to show the nice police person your QR code on the cell screen.
Additionally, about one in five passengers are ‘Randomly’ selected and pulled aside for a quick-test. Of course, like other government agencies all around the planet, the personnel are thrilled to inform you, “No worries… it’s Free ! It’ll be fascinating to total how much the new version of “It’s Free !” costs our grandchildren.
I’m staying in a tiny village near Thessaloniki. Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll return to the airport to meet my friend. Stilianos Kanidis lives in Thessaloniki. I’ll stay in his family’s guest house until we drive to Katerini… probably Thursday morning.
I’ll enjoy some quiet time, with pastries and coffee, and try to get caught up on some school work. I’ll continue to share the adventure with you. The Peters are in Rome until Thursday.
Saturday September 4 - Chapter 5 – Ostia, Day Two
You’ve seen Gary’s summary, so you know Michael Peters finished well out of the money. Of note, his losses were to the champion and the other guy in for bronze.
The point being… there are some studs here… both male and female. I get so frustrated trying to get leadership at USA Wrestling and USWOA, this is not some circus act. There is one Olympic medalist here (Dato Marsagishvili, Georgia), but there are more than a handful of alternates.
Their federations, their coaching staffs, gave a clear assignment: “Go get better”. Whatever your place in the wrestling dynamic, try going three minutes… feet digging in wet sand… stay in position… don’t touch a knee… don’t go out of bounds…oh, yeah, and make offense.
Referees: “Want to climb the ladder, work overseas? Go get better. Enjoy everything the beach has to offer, but see great wrestling… understand position… prove that you understand what kind of motion generates technique”.
Enough rant. Georgia (the country) had a tough day. They put four out of four men in medal matches. They got skunked. But they put FOUR OUT OF FOUR in medal matches
Ukraine won the team trophy with a spectacular demonstration of depth. After knocking down four golds in France, Georgia blanked on golds and still finished number two.
Iran wasn’t in France and won’t be in Greece. Getting travel visas is a tough deal for them. Yet, they bring some studs when they can. Iran finished third.
Off we go to Greece. I travel Sunday. The Peters stay in Rome until Thursday. Most of the European delegations go home for a couple of days. All of us will be back at it Friday, in Katerini, near Thessaloniki, where Alexander The Great grew up.
I apologize, if I seem kinda’ distracted. My son, a high school football coach in Colorado, was injured in a freak accident at practice Wednesday. Sterling’s surgery went as well as could be expected. It looks like he may be released late Saturday and will eventually be OK. Not whining, but I would ask for your prayers. Sterling is a great human.
Friday, September 3 - Chapter 4: Ostia, Day One
It’s one of those ‘Good News -Bad News” nights. The Good news is that Gary Abbott is on top of things and already reported our one-man Team USA’s outcomes. The Bad news is that it’s after midnight and I’m just getting a flicker of internet connection.
FIJLKAM, like many institutions in Europe, provides WiFi, but can’t handle a heavy demand. With 150 athletes, coaches and referees on campus, I kinda’ had to wait my turn.
So, you know Michael Peters beat Clement Lamothe, of France, in the first round. Lamothe chose to push Peters, near the edge. That’s a mistake. He got zipped for three.
You know that Michael lost to Oleksii Boruta, of Ukraine, in the second round. It wasn’t close. Peters is a long, lanky 70kg. Many of his opponents are more compact. Boruta is a fireplug.
It’s really difficult to make a short guy wrestle tall. Michael did a great job in the attempt. It’s easier for a short guy to make a lanky opponent wrestle short. Hats off to Boruta for capitalizing on excellent position.
We open tomorrow with another fireplug, Stefan Coman of Romania. The guy’s pretty good. Michael is one of those really cerebral guys. We’ find out how he adjusts. I have confidence.
You can piece together from Gary’s report, Beach Wrestling is contested in pools of four. This system offers every athlete more hand-shakes for their travel dollar. Bravo, UWW, for this approach to the non-Olympic styles.
Michael’s opposite pool offers a lanky, tough Iranian, along with three other squatty-bodies. Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, and Greece all offer opponents who can afford to stay in position and wait for the tall guy to force the action. We’ll see. This is not Michael Peters’ first rodeo.
While the big guys (over 90kg) are always the most dramatic, there’s no doubt that the stud (male) athletes are at 70kg. For that reason, the 70 kg weight class traditionally competes last.
Considering an ‘Intervening Variable’ tomorrow (Saturday) holds a 70 per cent chance of heavy rain. Beach Wrestling accepts its inherent fate. We compete in some pretty iffy conditions. It would take a catastrophic storm to shut us down. Being wet favors Michael Peters… just sayin’.
Count on Gary Abbott (and USA Wrestling’s internet access) to get you up-to-the-minute results. I’ll get you some, maybe less-than-objective commentary.
Thursday, September 2: Chapter 3: Michael Peters
Michael Peters is a warrior. The Quincy, Illinois native will represent the United States, at 70 kg, in the last three stops of United World Wrestling’s 2021 Beach World Series. This will be Michael’s fourth appearance in Beach World Championship events.
Peters is a graduate of Division II Maryville University in St Louis. A serious shoulder injury, early in his collegiate career, prompted the NCAA to grant Michael an injury waiver.
Put that together with a COVID19 extension and Peters will finish one Masters Degree and start another, with eligibility remaining (2021 – 22 & 2022 – 23). He will complete his MBA, with emphasis in Marketing, in spring 2022.
I met Michael Peters in 2017, at the USAW Beach Nationals in Carolina Beach, NC. Qualifying for our World Team, Michael and his dad, Donnie were folks I wanted to visit with. Never batting an eye, both answered, “Of course we’re going”. Michael represented the United States, later that summer, in Dalyan, Turkey.
I kept up with Michael through my ‘Hagerty Connection’. Keenan Hagerty was an All-American, at Maryville, and went on to become an assistant to the legendary Mike Denney. (Keenan is now Head Coach at William Jewel University. I think his dad coached some, too.)
Back in Turkey for the 2018 championship… this time in Sarigerme… Michael Peters tip-toed up to the podium, falling just short. He placed fifth. By this time, his teammates and coaches, at Maryville had dubbed Michael ‘The Sandman.’ In my world, that’s a huge compliment.
In 2019, United World Wrestling christened its Beach Wrestling World Series. Peters completed the series by earning a Bronze Medal. In 2020, the World Series became a casualty of the pandemic.
We are just outside of Rome. As I peck away at this, Michael is down the hall working on a research paper. Fortunately, he is able to keep up with his coursework, while spending an entire month in Europe. This is another credit to Maryville. Thanks to faculty and coaches for supporting real-life education !
Peters weighs in tomorrow morning. After the World Series event, this weekend, Michael and his dad, Donnie, hop on a plane to Thessaloniki, Greece. Nearby Katerini will host the next World Series event next weekend, September 8 – 10.
Michael will continue his training in Switzerland, then move on to the Series Finale. Constanta, Romania will host the finals September 23 – 26.
The same venue will host the Beach World Championship for Cadets and Juniors. The United States has a sizeable delegation. I’ll fill you in on that, when the time comes.
For now, simply appreciate wrestling families like the Peters. These are good kids, raised by good parents, who will become great citizens. They recognize that education is a ‘life thing’, not a ‘ChromeBook thing’. They recognize what wrestling provides for our best and brightest (Trust me… it’s more than medals !)
Appreciate why wrestling appeals to people like this, and why they make us proud to be wrestlers. I’m really proud that Michael Peters is part of my life.
Wednesday, September 1 - Chapter 2: FIJLKAM, Lido di Ostia
FILJKAM is Italy’s equivalent to our Olympic / Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. They are similar in that they are specifically designed to house certain sports better than others. The FI is for Federation Italy. The rest denotes activities labeled as combative disciplines: Lotta (Wrestling); Judo; Karate; Martial Arts (Arts Marcial).
Like we did at the OPTC, during the old days of the Shultz tournament, all athletes, coaches, referees are staying on campus. This place holds some really precious memories for me !
It was 1993 and the FILJKAM facility brand new, state of the art. It was known as FILPJ then. Coach Ron Jones (Florida) and I were assigned to one of the better Tour du Monde teams ever assembled. It was also Sterling’s (my son) first trip overseas.
As a disclaimer, sitting in Italy… jetlagged… I can’t recall every first and last name. For that, I apologize. But, here are a few. We had a great human, named Ryan (nicknamed Hoss), who I know is coaching in Florida now. Angelo Valdez, from Grants, was on that team.
We had a big guy from Texas, Andrew Etchison. We had Rabbit Turner (legal name: Ernest), from Tennessee.
We had several of Coach ‘Sam’ Harnsongkram’s kids from Jesuit, then the powerhouse in New Orleans. Among them were Creighton Mullins and Scott Maestri. Mullins should just be retiring from an amazing military career. He’s one of those guys we’re not really supposed to talk about, if you get my jist. Maestri’s grandmother taught me a recipe, for bread pudding, that I still use twice a month.
This seems the right place to pause and hold a positive thought for those in Louisiana and Mississippi, recovering from Ida. We all hope all our wrestling loved ones are OK.
Our trip to Italy left directly from Fargo. We had a feisty 15-year-old, one Jared Frayer. “Gypsy”, we called him, went on to represent the United States in the 2012 London Games. Frayer continues to build and define a magnificent coaching career.
Steven Blackford was on that team. After a fabulous career at Arizona State, Steven was taken early in a horrible car crash.
On our daily treks, whether training or sightseeing, Steven was mesmerized by the tiny lizards that populate this beautiful beach region. On my walk-about, this evening, I saw a tiny lizard. The memories began to flood.
The arena at FIJLKAM, noted for its saddle-like appearance, was once state-of-the-art. Both its interior and exterior show some blemishes today, as do the dorm rooms and cafeteria.
The cracks in my stucco showed themselves today. I had a good cry for Steven Blackford. Those tears quickly cooled and dried, as I thought of each of those others. I know and imagine the great things those men have done with their lives.
We should appreciate the human connection wrestling offers so deeply. I do.
Tuesday, August 31st: Chapter 1 - Travel Day
Travel days have always been special. They sharpen focus and awareness with their logistical challenges. They bring comfort and reflection with their anonymity. This one brings trepidation. That’s my new word. I am filled with trepidation. I am trepidatious.
More about that. But, first, an introduction and a purpose. I’ll write daily, through September 12th, to bring you the Second and Third Stops in United World Wrestling’s 2021 Beach World Series.
I started blogging USA Wrestling events and participation, I guess, before blogging was cool. In 2021, blogging is cool! After enjoying Gary Abbot’s insights during the Olympic Games, I know the bar is set high. When you add the WhatsApp group maintained by Coach Terry Steiner, the task becomes daunting.
Coach Terry tapped into the essence of the wrestling mentality. Connection drives us. Embracing the individuality of our conflict, helps us value the comradery of the effort. We listen to Adeline reminisce about inviting her opponent to her wedding. We thrive on Tamyra’s silliness and sincerity.
Those stories drive home the key point: Wrestling is important to humanity. Humanity is important to wrestling.
So, the purpose is to offer more than scores and stats. It is to tell some stories that remind you of some stories. It is to give us all just a couple of minutes, away from the trepidation, to say, “Wow! Life’s pretty cool”.
Being the old guy, I don’t carry phone service overseas. I can’t compete with Coach Terry’s instant insight and observation. Don’t want to. What I will do is get a daily something to Gary. He’ll post it on Themat.com. Then, if you see something that reminds you of someone, I hope you’ll share it.
Thanx for Playing,
Bio: Rusty Davidson and wife, Eva, live in Grants, New Mexico. Rusty has been a member of USA Wrestling since the organization’s inception. Whether serving as coach, referee or team leader, Rusty has shared his blogs with TheMat.com since 2003.