Shouts and Murmurs: Deep in the heart of wrestling
Two years ago an assignment brought me to my first demolition derby, a noisy extravaganza that left those in the audience, including myself, with balls of mud hanging in our hair. To the veteran demolition derby fan, the mud seemed to be a medal of honor the more mud on your clothes and hair the more involved in the action you appeared to be.
The fans interested me and I spent some time talking to them, finding that demolition derby watching and participation is a family sport. Entire families work on cars and take turns driving them. In the stands, parents bring children who keep their eyes on the car-bashing from the first crash to the last.
I had wondered if there was an indoor substitute for demolition derbies. I think I found it Saturday night semi-professional wrestling.
As part of a fund-raiser for the Linwood Community Center and the Linwood Library, the Triple Extreme Wrestlers set up a wrestling stage (just as you see on TV) in the middle of the community center. Mind you, the stage had to be situated so wrestlers would not hit their heads on the ceiling beams. To further protect their noggins, lightbulbs were removed from the fixtures directly over the stage.
It was a sight to behold the quiet little town of Linwood transformed into a cacophony of Saturday night sound, filled with blaring music and the crashing sounds of wrestlers stomping or falling on the stage floor.
I must admit, semi-professional wrestling is not my idea of a Saturday night on the town. The event started at 7 p.m. We were prompt. By 8 o'clock, I wished we had been late. But with two kids in tow we were destined to stay.
To me, it was a curious sport and about as much fun as scraping ice off a windshield. But to the enthusiastic fans, it seemed to be a white-knuckle thrill.
Alvin Cox III, 7, who lives in Tonganoxie, had a front row seat beside his father, Alvin Cox II. During the first intermission (yes there were two intermissions), Alvin said he liked the event because: "You get to see them wrestle." But Alvin was wise to their tricks. "I know they're really not hitting them and stuff," he said.
A wrestler himself, Alvin participates in the Tonganoxie Kids Club wrestling. He even brought his outgrown singlet and before the match began, had it autographed by all the wrestlers. "I'm going to keep it in a safe place," he said.
Across the room from Alvin sat three men two of them wearing Viking hats one with long blond braids and one wearing a hat that looked like a large chunk of cheese fresh from Wisconsin.
The unknowing might have thought they were locals asked by the wrestlers to wear funny hats and lead the crowd in cheering and jeering.
But I soon found out, these guys are fans who follow the teams. The night before, Matt Jellison, Topeka, Nick Gray, Topeka, and Kansas State University student Seth Tomassi had watched the same wrestlers perform in Joplin, Mo.
The three held soup ladles in their hands which they waved at the wrestlers and banged on metal chairs. Why the soup ladles, I asked?
"Because these guys look like escapees from the soup kitchen," Jellison said.
Linwood Mayor Keith Schelert brought his family to the event. As his son, Adam, stood in a line to get his T-shirt autographed, Schelert said the night's admission proceeds would go the wrestling group and the concession proceeds would benefit Linwood. Nearby at the kitchen, Linwood residents were busy selling hot dogs, pop and candy.
Shortly before the meet ended, I talked to two girls who seemed enthralled with the action. I think they clued me in, more than anyone else, as to what it is that attracts people to this not-for-sissies form of entertainment.
Best friends Ronni Crouss, 10, Bonner Springs, and Kaitlyn Kane, 9, Linwood, sat on the edge of their chairs, cheering every move.
"I like how they make noise and all the excitement," Ronni said.
And Kaitlyn said it was fun to be a part of the crowd:
"I like how you can yell and scream and cheer on your favorite wrestler and not be embarrassed because everybody else is doing it too."