Washington on Wrestling in Washington DC
Wrestling Me and the Inner-City
By. Eric Washington
I remember being called, “a big six.” It was almost as if people didn’t believe I was only six years old. “He sure is a big six!” It wasn’t like we were trying to get in free on the bus or an amusement ride park, this was freaking everywhere! It wasn’t that I was one of those mammoth babies, like the one you see on YouTube, all fat smoking cigarettes. I was just tall for my age.
Now, a father myself, I too have a big kid. I remember the doctor explaining about my son, “he’s in the 95 percentile,” the medical way of saying he’s big. He’s just turning 10 and me 43. When I watch him, I’m constantly reminded of myself growing up. He’s shy, kind, tall, lanky, a bit uncoordinated, but a significantly much better athlete than I was at his age. Why? Because I started him wrestling at six years old. Last year, at only 9 years old, he finished 4th in the State at 80 pounds! I can’t tell you what it’s done for his confidence and self esteem. I felt tormented sometimes as a child, because I was always being told and overhearing people describing me, laughing or commenting on how uncoordinated I was. My brother, cousins, aunts, uncles, schoolmates, it was hard sometimes. It was true, I was, but no more than any other kids my age and more importantly, my size. No one ever explained to me that it’s harder to build longer muscles or that it was more challenging learning to control your own body when there is more of it than the average kid. Yes, short kids have the advantage developmentally when it comes to coordination and strength. It might seem like common sense as an adult, but no one explained that to me when I was a kid. It was tough at times.
It was fourth-grade before I started my athletic career. I played recreational football in Montgomery county just outside Washington DC. And yes, initially, I had to play with the older kids, because I weighed more than most kids in my age group. If you don’t know, older kids are more coordinated, faster, stronger and more mature. So, no, initially it wasn’t pretty. I got my ass kicked up and down the field, but I stuck with it, because it was fun. I honestly don’t feel like I came into my own with regard to any sport until about junior high.
Growing up I played organized baseball, basketball, football, track, lacrosse and in junior high I even tried gymnastics. I was lucky enough to play basketball for a local legend. He was a high school basketball star in DC, who went on to play in college and even coach a well-known college basketball team. This was my recreation league coach. From fourth grade through 10th grade, we literally never lost a game. Not only did we not lose, but we normally beat teams by no less than 20 points. Every week, every game, every team sometimes by as much as 40 points. I remember playing basketball at 14 in an AAU league in a 17 and under division and winning. In fact we went to Las Vegas and competed in nationals. Out of all the sports I ever did or tried, hands down wrestling was the most impactful and rewarding to me as an athlete and a man. Out of all the accomplishments, awards, trophies, medals and certificates I received growing up, in and out of school and every sport and activity I every participated, becoming the Heavyweight County and Regional Champion and going on managing to earn a full athletic scholarship to Morgan State University is to this day, one of, if not the greatest and most cherish accomplishments of my life.
Although I was a good athlete, relatively strong, and had tasted some national success athletically, there was absolutely no better feeling in sports that I can measure then having my hand alone raised at the end of a match in front of my friends, family, teachers, community and peers. I knew in basketball, I won because of my coaches knowledge of the game. I had to get a pass, rebound the ball, make the shot, let alone get in the game. In baseball, I had to make it off the bench, not strike out, hit the ball, run the bases, or catch a 90 mph sphere. In track, I personally believe, you’re either born fast or not. There’s technique to improving your time a bit, but you’re either fast or slow. There is an intensity with wrestling like no other sport. The training is intense, the practices are intense, the competition is grueling. The triumph is incomparable and the losses can be devastating.
What I like best about wrestling, frankly is that there are no excuses period. You can’t complain about not getting the ball, the coach didn’t put me in, they wouldn’t pass it to me, I couldn’t get a rebound, that’s not my event, I wasn’t tall enough, I can’t jump, I’m too short, I’m too fat, I’m too skinny, I’m not strong enough. There’re are no balls, sticks, racquets, pucks, helmets or pads. There’s just you and your opponent, a nice soft mat and a guy in a zebra print to make sure everything goes by the rules. You study the sport, you learn your moves, you practice your moves, you perfect your moves, and at the tournament or dual meet, you execute your plan. At the end six minutes or less, you win or lose, no excuses. Deal with it. Relish in your victory or savor your defeat. You either came in condition, rested, prepared and ready for battle or you didn’t prepare and you’ll deal with the consequences none the less. You find out about yourself and your opponent wrestling. Are you a wuss, a punk, a fish, a tough guy, or a monster? Are you the kind of guy that’s gonna keep going even when he’s exhausted, just to win? Can you come back after getting taken down, slammed or choked or are you the guy who whines afterwards saying, ” I couldn’t breathe!” After your matches, behind your back, do they talk about how tough you were or how soft you are or how fast you gave up? Let’s face it, losing sucks, but I’ve never known a sport where you can lose and actually feel good about it, knowing you put everything on the line and left it all on the mat and the other guy was just better, which immediately gave you a new goal. To get better.
That is why wrestling is such a tremendous sport to have in the inner-city. Wrestlings challenges and prepares inner-city youth for the hurdles that mirror day-to-day life going up in the inner city. Wrestling I teaches independence, self reliance, and resilience like no other sport or activity. Just like wrestling, if you don’t prepare for a test you’ll fail that test and thereby potentially fail the class, potentially fail that particular grade level. Similarly in wrestling, if you’re not prepared, at the right weight, rested and energetic, if you don’t know your moves and you go in front of someone who does, your going to get thrashed. As a result of that thrashing, you may lose your starting spot or may not qualify for local, divisional, regional or state tournament, thereby ending your wrestling career or season early that year. As an adult, you may have a work project you must complete, stay up all night to do, work on for days or weeks, and must do well in order to keep your job, please your boss, or get a promotion. If you nail it, they’re be rewards, but if you don’t they’re be consequences. Just like life, the harder you work in the practice room, the more it will show at dual meats and tournaments. The harder you work in class and at homework, the better grades that will show up on your report card. The better grades that show up on your report card is the greater potential you have of being accepted to a good school.
The challenge with inner-city sports and/or wrestling is that in a lot of households there’s not always a mom and dad to drive that lesson home to a youth or check homework daily. Often times the dad is working two or more jobs or absent. Frequently, the mother is working two or more jobs and not home to check homework, review and/or assist with lessons or confirm attendance or progress. More times than not, inner-city children are being raised by grandparents or single parents that are also working. Another challenge faced by intercity wrestlers is financial responsibility to one’s family that another athlete in the suburbs or more affluent side of town isn’t saddled with. I’ve coached in Baltimore city and DC and I’ve yet to have a team that does not have kids that miss practice due to having jobs or tutoring. The irony is kids will always have $80-140 sneakers, but claim to rarely have the money for wrestling shoes for whatever reason. Go figure.
One of the reasons wrestling as a sport is so good for inner-city kids is that it teaches and instills a lot of the discipline and positive characteristics and reinforcement that they may not be receiving at home and would otherwise not get. Also wrestling gives kids the instant gratification and recognition that reinforces the need for routine, diligence and discipline. One outstanding attribute of wrestling that is great for kids of all ages and backgrounds is that the sport gives a constructive outlet for rage, anger and frustration, which a lot of inner city children experience, because they don’t understand the cause of the societal inequity or socioeconomic hurdles. A child struggling with anger management can train and transform that anger into a phenomenal double leg takedown or lateral throw, instead of a street fight or brawl on the playground at recess. Wrestling teaches discipline, the time and place for aggression and the routine and exercise of emotional discipline that is frequently absent in today’s youth.
I myself, used wrestling as a outlet for my frustration as a youth. Originally from DC, all my family lived in DC and my entire neighborhood, although in the suburbs of Montgomery County, was all black. Although Montgomery County was a predominantly white area, my neighborhood was all black and going to a predominantly white school dealing with the socioeconomic and cultural differences found myself confused, discouraged and frustrated at times, not understanding why things weren’t fair and teachers didn’t treat me and my black friends the same. Nor did we understand why some of our white friends drove cars to school and we were on the school bus, why they had designer jeans and we had generic. Instead of getting in trouble on the weekends and after school, wrestling kept me occupied and provided an excellent platform for me to vent my frustration in a positive and legal manner.
Marketing wrestling in the inner city isn’t hard. From my experience, most teachers, advisors, counselors, administrators and principals see the need and value of the “programming” particularly now, because a lot of organizations are trying to teach black and minority children they can excel in sports outside of football and basketball. Wrestling is referred to as “alternative programming”. Nonetheless, the challenge is finding the funding to start programs. Unlike basketball, football and baseball, where in most cases there are already basketball courts, and fields at schools and facilities, wrestling requires a mat, generally costing no less than $6-7,000. Starting those mainstream sports, all you need is T-shirts, maybe some shorts, minor equipment and some balls. Wrestling, the interest is there, the kids will come, the administrators are saddled with try to come up with thousands upfront instead of a couple hundred dollars. Wrestling is growing in popularity in the inner city and it’s exactly what every kid needs regardless of their neighborhood. When I’m asked what sport should I get my child involved in, hands down and every single time I say wrestling.
Coach Eric “E.W.” Washington
Commissioner DC Wrestles
Marketing Director & Secretary, USA Wrestling-DC