February 25, 2000
Our Perry high school wrestling team will be going after another state tournament championship this weekend in Oklahoma City, and I hope you can be there to cheer them on. It will take all the PHS supporters we can muster to offset the jeers and boos sure to emanate from fans of other teams in the state fairgrounds arena. The Maroons will be seeking their 29th state championship, an unbelievable record, and it won't be easy.
The state's best wrestlers will be there because they qualified last weekend in East and West regional tournaments. The top four individuals in each weight won the right to compete in the state meet. As we all know, 13 of the 14 Perry boys qualified for state by earning first, second, third or fourth at the West regional. The one who did not qualify is only a freshman and he assuredly will have future opportunities to make the big tournament.
Perry has won more state championships than any other Oklahoma school that competes in this ancient sport. Our city is recognized as "the wrestling capital" because of the unexcelled individual efforts of Maroon-clad matmen through the years. PHS has sent superb wrestlers to universities and colleges throughout the country and many of them have won NCAA and/or Olympic medals. Still others coached professionally or as volunteers. All of them have been true sportsmen, and that is more than can be said about some of the rabble-rousers in the stands where our wrestlers have performed.
One might reasonably expect that PHS wrestlers would be greeted by true fans with polite applause, at the very least. But at last week's regional tournament each Perry combatant was booed loudly after winning a match, from the opening round to the finals when our 13 eventual qualifiers stepped onto the mat. That's the curse of success, I guess. It's called envy, but I'm not sure that teen-age athletes understand the fans' motivation when such disgraceful performances unfold. The kids, after all, are only doing what competitors in any endeavor are taught to do - trying their hardest to win, and doing it by legal means.
Perry Maroon wrestlers don't win just by showing up for a match. Most of them train for years with incredible dedication, by watching their diet, running, lifting weights, listening to their coaches (and, in most cases, family members who have gone through the routine themselves). We don't turn them out by cookie cutters. They work hard, and when they're out there on the mat it is just their strength and skill pitted against their opponent's, one on one. It's a pure form of athleticism. If they win, they deserve the laurel or the medal and a handshake from their opponent. It's called sportsmanship, and I hope to live long enough to see the day when a Maroon wrestler will be accorded a modicum of respect by true sports fans. Buying a ticket for a prep wrestling match or tournament does not entitle any of us to vent our frustration on teen-age athletes.
Here's to the Maroons, past, present and future. May they continue to win this weekend and thus extend one of the most unusual team records in the U.S.