Updated: February 14, 2013 6:19AM
I can’t remember the last time I was so proud of my 6-year-old son.
Last Sunday, Bubba won his final match of a youth wrestling tournament at Marist High School on Chicago’s Southwest Side. He pinned his opponent in the first round, securing third place in the 45-pound division.
As his hand was raised, I beamed.
We walked over to the scorer’s table, and Bubba was handed a medal. His jaw dropped and eyebrows arched as he showed me the hardware.
“Third place, Dad!” he said, reacting as if he’d won a gold medal at the Olympics. My fingers and scalp tingled to see him so happy.
Bub placed third out of a group of four boys. His first match seemed like a sure thing, as his nervous opponent entered the gym crying. Bubba’s rival pulled himself together to win on points. His second opponent pinned him almost immediately. So I don’t think my skinny boy is on the fast track for the 2024 Illinois state championship.
But Bubba wrestled well in his final match. If he’d lost every round, I’d still have been proud. But it wouldn’t have been the same. Realizing this made me feel slightly guilty.
I also wondered why I didn’t feel so utterly proud when Bubba brought home a strong report card. Why don’t my fingers tingle when he reads a book above his grade level?
Perhaps I’m too much of a Tiger Mother, but I expect good grades. And reading books with big words seems more a result of frequent practice than anything else. Both of these things make me feel good, just not as good as I felt Sunday.
I’m also proud of Bubba when he’s nice to someone whom others ignore or tease. When he tries something outside of his comfort level, I smile. When he fails without getting discouraged, I’m content. I’m impressed when he describes complex situations in a manner that seems advanced for his age.
Yet none of these things compares to the overwhelming sense of pride that accompanied Bub’s wrestling win. I can’t explain it. I know academic accomplishment and social aptitude are more important than wrestling. It just didn’t feel that way.
I’m sure some of this is nostalgia. I wrestled in high school. While I was never very good, I enjoyed the sport and knew it would be more fun if I’d been better. Had Bubba taken third place in an Irish dancing competition, I doubt I’d have reacted as strongly.
But regardless of the sport, there must be something about athletic competition that generates such strong emotions. And wrestling is an individual sport, meaning the outcome falls squarely on the shoulders of the athlete. There are no teammates to blame or coaches at fault. It’s one wrestler vs. another. Either your hand is raised in victory or it isn’t.
Furthermore, I’ve been taking Bubba and his 5-year-old brother, Peter, to wrestling practice at Ridge Park in Chicago’s Beverly community for the past two winters. Twice a week they run through drills and have simulated matches. It’s fun, indoor exercise.
I had kept the boys out of tournaments thus far. I didn’t think they were ready for the six-hour affairs. However, I could see something click when the matches began. Peter stayed home, but Bubba seemed to finally grasp why we ran through these drills over and over.
There’s no tournament for learning to read. You don’t get a medal for being the best-behaved student in class — though both are more important than athletic accomplishment.
Maybe realizing that was just as important as the win. I expect Bubba will wrestle in his second tournament soon. I just have to remember to keep my priorities straight. It’s easy to get swept up in the euphoria of sports.
Speaking of which, I’m hoping for a silver medal or better next time.
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business writer who traded his reporter’s notepad for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.
He can be reached at email@example.com.