Duran McCormick, the tough 119-pounder for the Carver Vocational-Technical High School wrestling Bears, is totally fearless on the mat. He wades into an opponent. If he can't grab a leg, he'll just wrestle his opponent around the arms and shoulders, completely ignoring the fact that the guy might be stronger than he is.
So there he was a couple of Tuesdays ago, a 5-feet, 5-inch bundle of energy and enthusiasm, ready to take on a city champion: Tavon Williams of the Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School Mustangs.
Duran is a third-year wrestler, a junior still trying to hone his skills. Tavon is a little more seasoned, a senior with four years of experience. The difference soon showed. Tavon used a couple of fireman's-carry takedowns and near fall points (that means he almost pinned Duran, for the nonwrestling fans among you) to build a commanding lead. From the sidelines, Dwight Warren -- Mervo's wrestling coach, who perennially molds championship caliber grapplers from raw, green recruits -- yelled for Tavon to pile up the points and get a technical fall.
A brief explanation, again for the nonwrestling fans. Amateur wrestling is scored on the point system. American colleges and high schools use a style called collegiate wrestling. Take your opponent to the mat and you score two points. Turn him on his back and you score two or three points, depending on how long you hold the guy there. Get free from your opponent -- that's called an escape -- and you get one point. If your opponent has you on the mat and is thrashing the living daylights out of you, you can score two points by turning the tables and controlling him. That's called a reversal.
It's not quite the WWF or WCW, for which genuine wrestling fans are truly grateful. We don't need the chairs and the baseball bats and the two-by-fours brought into the ring. We're satisfied with our near falls and escapes and reversals and single legs and double legs and ankle picks, thank you very much.
But back to the technical fall, which occurs when one guy is getting trounced so badly -- building up a 15-point or more advantage on his opponent -- the match is stopped. (Why, oh why, couldn't they have had this rule when I was wrestling? It could have saved me much agony.) Tavon had built up a 13-point lead on Duran. What Warren wanted was for Tavon to let Duran up, thus giving him a point. Tavon was then to take Duran down again, gaining two points for a 14-point lead. If Tavon let Duran up again and reduced the lead to 13, another takedown would give the Mervo mangler a 15-point lead and the tech fall.
There was a slight glitch in Warren's plan: Duran McCormick. Having fought off being pinned twice, Duran was clearly in no mood to be the victim of a tech fall. He took Tavon down. The final margin of Tavon's victory was 11 points.
After the bout, the two sat in the stands and chatted. Duran insisted that, in a previous meeting, he had almost beaten Tavon.
"The score was 13-3," Tavon reminded Duran. "How do you figure you almost won?"
"It was closer than that," Duran insisted, with Tavon shooting him a look that indicated he might have slammed Duran to the mat a bit too hard.
Tavon started wrestling as a ninth-grader. He had no previous interest in the sport. It seems his smart mouth was responsible for creating a future city wrestling champion.
"A teacher told me to try it," Tavon recalled. "I had a lot of attitude with him. He just sent me down to the wrestling room."
Wrestling is the perfect antidote for a bad case of I'm-a-tough-guy-itis. But Tavon is tough. He found he liked the sport. Liked it enough to endure the daily poundings from his teammates. Liked it enough cope with the humiliation of winning only three matches his freshman year while losing 10.
"And all those were forfeits," Tavon said.
In his sophomore year, he won nine and lost six. He went 17-6 his junior year and won the city 112-pound title. This year, he's looking to place in the regionals and qualify for the state tournament at the same weight.
"If I can get a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the regionals," Tavon said, "I should be OK."
But first there's the business of defending his city championship today at City College. Tavon's coach expects the tournament to be one of the best in years.
"Teams like Lake Clifton and City are much improved," Warren said. "Patterson, Poly and Mervo are consistent with where they were."
With more youngsters like Tavon Williams and Duran McCormick, maybe wrestling in city public high schools will get back to where it once was. Whether or not you're a wrestling fan, spending an afternoon supporting these young men would be time well-spent.