May Your Hotel be Welcoming by Annita Woz

wrestlingfrontfeet1   Seconds of time on a wrestling mat combine with time spent at the Woz Hotel during the state tournament and become a part of our family wrestling story.

The yearly trek to the state tourneys is a cherished pursuit of athletic honor and a trip that team mates and family look forward to all season.  It is a bittersweet opportunity where mothers of wrestlers get sleepless nights while wrestlers dream deeply of walking in the Parade of Champions, lights out, single file, ready to work for one last win.   We would wish this on everyone if we could.

After the history books record the final match points, the fastest pins, the major decisions, what matters most is that the competitors got the chance to  face the best in their class and the spectators, the fans, the families, are all in the bleachers where they are able to embellish and retell the tournament with the detail that comes from having been there.

What is left standing after the trophies gather dust, and the medals cease to clank on unworn letterman jackets, what remains long after sight of the bus being escorted out of town by the fire department has faded, are the routines of planning the trip south every year and of watching state wrestling with our a family and friends. With or without a state appearance, everyone in the family has a good memory of the state tournament because it is as much about the wrestling as it is about family.

For the week between Sectionals and State, these state bound wrestlers enjoy the simple fact that they are on their way to the the final matches of their season.   Parents have faithfully followed their kids’ dreams, prayed for the next victory, and are looking forward to an honest match without any stalling.  The pep rallies and big posters gracing the entrance of the school announcing a trip to state are sure signs that the best are ready to take to the mats.

Congratulatory handshakes and nods of heads from old rivals recognize the opportunity that has been earned after the sectional tourney is done.  Seniors are preparing to put their final records into place and are starting to accept and enjoy what so few wrestlers get to experience.   The wonder at their role in this adventure is starting to take hold.

Parents traveling in the middle of winter to the Fieldhouse or the Kohl Center are both worried and wise.   They know their athlete’s success at Sectionals and the sendoff to the state tourney is much more than just a scrapbook moment,  it is the moment.

Some might say that the state wrestling tournament has always brought out the best and worst of the sport.  Maybe a healthy heckle of the ref sometimes led to a lost match.  A proud word on the quality of a move sometimes started an uncomfortable sizing up in the hallways outside of the mat-covered main floor.  Knowing that someone always has to lose has caused a mom or two to hide far from the bleachers, her face turned away, her fingers entwined in a necklace or flipping some keys inside a coat pocket, silently repeating to herself how much she hates the pain of this sport but willing to be there for her wrestler because that is what parents do and this is the sport her kid loves – the oldest and greatest sport on earth.

The best part of the state tourney is the the family part.   In our family the opportunity to be a part of a storied tradition of staying at the Woz Hotel is easily given up for the relief of securing a spot in a real hotel with the coach and the team while wearing that lanyard that identifies each as a Participant, not a ticket holder.  The best plan is always to stay with the coaches in the hotel off the square.

Each year, the wrestlers who make it to the state tourney are not welcomed out to this home in the country.  Right around Regionals, the joke starts surfacing that they are not going to be asked to stay this year.  The free hotel stay at Uncle Bob’s is over.  Reminders are not subtle.

Wrestlers who are going to compete at state get axed out of the poker tourney and then they take some ribbing that their spot in the ping pong bracket has been taken by a seven year old nephew.   The pile of shoes in the entryway doesn’t have space for one more pair of size 11’s and wrestlers are told the hotel is full, and reservations are no longer being accepted at the house.   The crowd of fans,  oh say 20 or 30 of them, enjoy the tradition of traveling a few hours south to share floor space and two bathrooms for a few days in our home.  The convenience of a short drive to each round is what started all of this but the routine of organizing tickets, debating parking strategies and planning State Street window shopping excursions from the crowded but happy house creates a comfortable rut.

This house as seen 17 years of brackets being reviewed.  The kitchen table statisticians guess how who is going to win each round and no one ever fills in a winning bracket until after the match is over.  Together, the cousins, the siblings, the uncles, take in some of the best wrestling there is to see at the high school level and combine it with some of the best late night mountain dew drinking monopoly challenges and a few of Grandma’s home made minute cookies.   They might believe life doesn’t get any better than this except of course for the perfection of  having their own name appear on a  page of the WIAA program instead of on the list of names on the fridge that keeps count of the visitors at the Woz Hotel.

It is the tradition of the Wozniak family to eat, sleep and cheer together for our local heroes and then unite in the evenings to relive the best matches of the day.

Those who do not have a match at the tourney, placate their competitive spirits by breaking a records of a different kind.   Conspiring with friends, old and new, they ponder the ways to exceed the record of 44 overnight guests, who arrive armed with blankets and pillows, all as campers in a house that loves not only wrestling, but loves the family gathering that comes with State tourney weekend.

And yes, one year we resorted to counting the dogs.   And yes, one year we had the advantage of a whole family, with two sets of twins, come down to get record numbers up there.   But in the end, it doesn’t matter so much how many stayed and slept, but what matters more are the walking tacos after the second session and the celebratory party after the final matches have been wrestled and the winners have taken their places on the podium.

Grandma and her cardboard box of crafts, has always handled the babies and younger cousins who cannot go to the tournament. She sometimes rallies a teenager or two to stay back from the current round and help out if there are too many little ones to keep safe.   With just a list of who is here and how many dogs, too, Grandma manages to diaper, hug, hold, feed, clean up behind all of the little ones and still has time to drink a cup of coffee and look rested when everyone returns at the end of the day.

There is no special formula hosting of all these kids and grown ups in one home for the annual state wrestling tourney.   The true miracle is in the gift of Grandma’s approach to this challenge which she describes as a vacation.  She has no worries when she is watching grand kids.  She confesses that she mostly just lets them have fun and create their own magic, as kids well know how to do.  She says it is almost peaceful to be here when given the run of the house, and the freedom to mix and match toys and furniture in ways that grown ups have forgotten how to do, the children do their thing and she enjoyes them and thinks about the clean up later.

Blankets and stools become tents, oatmeal boxes and wooden spoons become band instruments,  shows with everyone in costume and everyone getting a staring lead are written, practiced and performed.  Big cousins teach little cousins how to scrapbook and the babies eat, and sleep and manage to get rocking chair time with a blanket and a Grandma to hold.  There’s not much cooking that needs to be done since bread and jam can feed a pretty hungry crowd while nutrition is easily balanced by adding ice cream to each meal.

Those who go to the tournament come home at the end of a long day to tired kids, who have  learned all the things that cousins need to learn from each other. They tuck easily into blankets acting as beds, their little feet dirty from the adventures of the day and their tummies happy from laughter and giggles. Despite being separated by hours of highway, the connections they make with their cousins during these few days of staying away from the competition and focusing on the fun,  are lasting and precious.

The memories of surviving wrestling seasons and the medal counts that make the paper are not what these young cousins remember though they clearly remember the best and the worst. They remember the longest sleepover ever, with Grandma reading her paper and sharing a bite of her sweet roll and they quickly forget the worst- the tired heads, the long drive home, the leaving, the the long, long wait until the next wrestling season can begin again.

***Good luck to all the WIAA STATE WRESTLING participants and fans. May your tournament series be successful, your hotel be welcoming and your company of the family kind.  May your memories be all about only the best moments.

### A. Woz.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks for your comment. This is also a great post and it brings back many many memories. Keep checking back at my blog… I’ve got tons of stories like this as well.

  2. Reblogged this on ChildGrower Blog by Annita Woz and commented:

    It’s WIAA State Wrestling Weekend! Good Luck wrestlers and coaches.

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