By Michael Waterloo
Of The Spirit
One of the most memorable moments of my youth came at the Civic Arena on June 28, 1998.
I was only 11 years old, but watching the Undertaker throw Mankind off the top of the cage during their epic "Hell in a Cell" match is something that I won't ever forget.
You see, that's what wrestling has always been to me.
Wrestling was about "The Diamond Cutter," "The Rock Bottom" and "Austin 3:16."
As I grew up, I grew away from the entertainment that is the WWE quite a bit, but I attended the Royal Rumble on Jan. 26 of this year at Consol Energy Center.
Wow, did I feel like I was 11 again.
I admit, I was doing the "Yes! Yes! Yes!" chant, and I may or may not have — sources can't confirm — done the Fandango dance out of my seat when his number was pulled for the rumble.
When I was 11, this was wrestling.
Now, in the 30-minute wait in the parking lot after the event in January, I started thinking about it.
It was pure entertainment on that night, but it wasn't wrestling.
I'll be honest, I never appreciated or cared for high school wrestling
My stepdad asked me when I was 10 if I wanted to go downtown to watch a wrestling match.
Being that it was New Bethlehem, I should've known better, but I got giddy and told him absolutely.
I started asking question after question, but when I asked if there were going to be steel chairs involved, he told me, "No, not THAT kind of wrestling."
So, naturally, I took my shoes off and told him I wasn't interested.
I grew up with wrestlers in my family, and I had a lot of wrestling buddies.
For those wrestling fans around here, I went to Burrell High School.
Burrell and wrestling go together in a sentence like Punxsutawney and Phil do.
But yet, in my four years at the school, I never saw one match.
At Clarion University, over the course of my six-year academic career, I never watched one match, even though I was the sports editor at The Clarion Call.
It just never, ever appealed to me.
When I took the job at The Spirit on Aug. 5, 2013, I wrote my introductory column about myself.
In that article, I said that no matter the event, I was going to cover it as if it was the Super Bowl or Game 7 of the World Series.
I'm a baseball guy.
I'm also a soccer (Go Chelsea!), football, basketball, hockey, tennis, softball and track and field guy.
The one thing I am not is a wrestling guy.
I'll admit, when I started, my biggest fear was how I would handle the wrestling coverage.
Would I be able to understand the scoring?
Would head coach Eric Eddy realize that I know as much about wrestling as my girlfriend does about sports in general?
Is my writing going to take a hit because of this?
Despite the worries, I made it a point to cover wrestling just like every single other sport that takes place in Punxsy.
It turns out that Eddy knew from the moment I spoke with him to do my season preview that I didn't know much about wrestling.
Well, it helps that I told him I didn't, but I could see it in his eyes that he knew that already.
My friend is an assistant youth coach at Burrell for the wrestling program, and he told me that all coaches know from the start that newspaper people don't know anything about wrestling.
Burrell varsity head coach Josh Shields confirmed that thought, by the way.
"Yep, that's how I look at it," Shields said.
The first match came against Marion Center at Punxsutawney and my god, I was like a lost puppy in a vacuum shop.
I was asking Punxsy trainer Chris Albright question on top of question.
I didn't like wrestling and that confirmed it.
However, this past weekend at Clarion University, I had the daunting task of covering wrestling for four hours on Friday and eight hours on Saturday.
I was writing for The Spirit, as well as the covering two schools for
The Daily Item.
I just knew it was going to be horrible.
However, on Saturday evening, I found myself getting into each match, and I didn't have to look at the scoreboard every other second to see what the scores of the respective matches were.
I actually learned how to keep score, but more importantly, I learned to appreciate wrestling.
I see kids like Joel Bowers and Kaleb Young, who live and bleed for the sport.
I see kids like Keegan Fischer and Luke Shiock who battled through a consolation bracket to advance to Altoona.
I realized what the sport really means when the seven athletes who advance to Regionals got together for a picture, and just by looking at their faces, you could see the joy and relief.
Josh Schuckers tweeted "It's about time" right after his win in the finals of district action.
That's what it's all about for these kids.
I used to think that wrestlers were just a bunch of people who starved themselves to make weight.
Watching Buddy Young give Perry Arrington a hug after his D-IX title victory showed me why they make those sacrifices.
I used to think that wrestlers were just athletes who thought that they were better than everyone else.
But the past few weeks, when I've been meeting with Eddy for previews, each and every wrestler looked at me, smiled and said hello.
Sitting down with Joel Bowers one-on-one for a feature article a month ago really opened my eyes and erased the stereotypes I had in my head.
I no longer have the pain in my stomach when I see I have to cover a wrestling match.
Now, I try to find a way to cover Regionals and States, even though I know it's not possible.
I've talked to Shields, my friend Chris Harkins and Clarion coach Troy Letters about wrestling, even when it wasn't required for a story.
I'm as excited as ever for baseball season to get here, and there's no feel like standing on the sidelines under those Friday night lights in the fall, but next winter, as much as I'll be anticipating the start of the basketball action on the hardwood floor, I'll be equally excited for the beginning of wrestling season.
It turns out this classic sport has a lot to offer.