Sports & identity #3: Small is beautiful

Neil Snarr - Contributing columnist

High schools often come to be known for their success in sports, or possibly one sport.

I attended Bloomington High School (BHS) in Bloomington, Indiana, and it was known for its success in wrestling. This was confirmed in the “Indiana High School Athletic Boys State Champions” reported on the internet.

Indiana high school wrestling was initiated in 1921-22, and out of the first 21 years Bloomington won the state championship seven times, all under the coaching of Harold Mumby. During the other 14 years of those first 21, Mumby was the runner-up coach six times. I remember the name because the BHS football field was named after him — and I dated his daughter!

A list of schools and their number of state champs by the official state organization (IHSAA) listed 65 for WHS and less than half that number for the next school.

After those first 21 year under Mumby, a new coach was named – Clifford Myers — and I wrestled under him for three years starting in 1948-49. That first year was, by far, my most successful season of wrestling.

My next-door neighbor was a serious wrestler and urged me to try out for the team, as there were very few vying for this lowest weight class — 95 lbs. There simply weren’t that many small students.

However, I did have one competitor, and in order to be selected for each meet, you had to wrestle any challengers. Thus, I wrestled this one competitor each time there was a meet – and I beat him each time. In researching for this paper, I found that this competitor was the state champ the next year and at the same 95-lb. class.

For wrestlers, keeping below their selected weight is all-consuming, but for me it was not an issue as my natural weight was below the 95 lbs.

My first season turned out to be my best. Out of 12 or 15 matches, I was defeated either two or three times, one of them being for the state championship.

Since we (BHS) had such a successful history, we were invited out of state to wrestle good teams. During that sophomore year I remember traveling to Danville and Champaign/Urbana high school teams in central Illinois and three schools in the Chicago and Hammond, Ind. area — specifically, Hammond Tech, East Chicago Roosevelt and Tilton Tech in Chicago. We won all of these contests and finished the season undefeated.

I can remember an article in the local newspaper with the following headline, “Nothing Certain, But Death, Taxes and the Bloomington High School Wrestling Team.”

I was not expected to do particularly well in the state competition, and in one of the first matches at the state championship held at Bloomington High School, I faced the expected winner. I was very much a very young child and the opponent from probably the largest school in the state (Indianapolis Arsenal Technical High School) was quite the opposite – he was obviously very mature, and he even shaved!

In the second period of the match he was down and I was on top, and he made a deadly mistake and I pinned him (I can still hear the crowd screaming – the contest was held in the BHS gym to a full house). If the team won the state championship it would be the sixth year in a row!

Well, there was one more serious contender from South Bend Central High School, and in this final match for the state championship, he beat me 6-2. That left me with second place, and he became just one of nine wrestlers in Indiana high school wrestling to win the state championship four years in a row.

It was during his freshman year that he beat me. In the research for this article I found his name, Howard Fisher. During our contest I made no mistakes, he was simply the better wrestler! The next year, again in researching this paper, I found that he beat a BHS wrestler for the state championship at the 112-lb. class.

On that night of the state championship, as always, I was the first wrestler to appear. After my losing there were seven more BHS wrestlers in the 12 weight classes vying for a state championship and two for third place. Only two BHS wrestlers had been eliminated.

As far as I can tell, this was the most successful Indiana high school wrestling team in the history of the state’s competition. At the end of that night at the BHS gymnasium where the championship was held, there were seven BHS state champs, one runner-up (me), and two third-place winners. Only two in the 12 weight classes failed to place. (The statistics on much of this are a bit confusing as the official state organ — the Indiana High School Athletic Association — sponsored only part of the contests and others were sponsored by Indiana University, which is located in Bloomington.)

I might add that my mother refused to see her wonderful son subjected to such abuse and she never saw me on a wrestling mat!

My next year on the mat was quite a let-down. I moved up to a higher weight class and there was a state champ who was outstanding and I didn’t have a chance of beating him. He was the only Mexican student in the high school as far as I know, and liked by everyone. My final year of wrestling was, I believe in the 128-lb. category and all that I can remember is that when I was eliminated, there were four wrestlers left in my weight.

It never occurred to me to try to wrestle in college. As far as I know none of the state champs from BHS went on to a college and made a name for themselves.

I think our success had to be attributed to coach Cliff “Two-Bits” Myers) — he was about 5’2” — I was never “one of the boys” and when we had a reunion several years later to celebrate the successes of Two-Bits many of the members of the team had forgotten who I was.

This sounds like a lament, but it was one of the greatest experiences in my life, which I wouldn’t trade for anything.

When my dad used to talk about two no-hit, no-run games and meeting Babe Ruth, I piped up with Victory Field, Ball State University and second place in the Indiana High School State wrestling championship tournament of 1948-49.

Small IS beautiful!

Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.

Neil Snarr

Contributing columnist