For the first 28 years of my life, the term chicken wing meant one of two things: a tasty snack I allowed myself to indulge in during football or basketball games or a wrestling hold that Bob Backlund, an anger-prone wrestler in what was then called the World Wrestling Federation (today, it’s called World Wrestling Entertainment), would apply to other wrestlers, managers, referees or anyone else unlucky enough to get in his way.
But Cory Archer taught me a definition of the chicken wing that was completely new to me. Archer, a wrestler for Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont, was kind enough to show me a wrestling — real wrestling, no steel chairs or tables were used — hold called the “cross face chicken wing.” The name, in and of itself, conjures up images of the body being twisted and contorted in painful ways.
Actually, the chicken wing was only one of the many holds Archer demonstrated with me while I played the role of a glorified wrestling dummy.
It was not my first brush with wrestling, but it had been a while since I had last ventured onto a wrestling mat (with the exception of post-match interviews).
My first experience with wrestling was driven by the naive assumption that all wrestling involved flying elbow drops and backbreakers. Yes, the wrestling bug hit me after watching Hulk Hogan — “whatcha going to do, brother” — body slam Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania 3 on an ancient relic called a video cassette. Right then and there I decided that, by God, I was going to be a wrestler. Coincidentally, at about the same time, my mom had gotten word about a wrestling camp that was about to take place at a location not too far from my home and decided that it was something I would like. So, because of fate or the hazards of circumstance, I was going to try and be a wrestler.
I arrived at camp, eager to emulate the bigger-than-life characters I watched on television, only to find out that, alas, the type of wrestling I would be doing at camp wasn’t going to be anything like I envisioned. Other Hulk Hogan wannabees were nowhere to be seen, but there were an abundance of young boys decked out in full wrestling gear. Things didn’t go swimmingly and, after camp was over, I returned to the familiar confines of the football field, baseball diamond or basketball court.
So, even though I was nothing more than a wrestling dummy, my time on the mat with Archer represented a return of sorts. Anyway, other than the chicken wing, Archer, who will wrestle at 152 pounds this season, showed me the half nelson, the cross face turk and the cross face cradle. The Rocket wrestler lucidly explained to me the intricacies and minutiae involved with each hold but, for fear of bungling his definitions, I won’t go into any specifics. What I will say is that his demonstrations illuminated for me the amount of technique that goes into this peculiar sport. Being someone who has constantly struggled to master the minor details of anything, I wasn’t sure if wrestling would have been my bag, so I’m amazed that so many young people are able to process the footwork, body control, discipline and technical prowess required to be a successful wrestler.
“You have to be willing to do things that most people are not going to want to do,” E-B-F coach Brett Little said. “Nobody likes skipping meals.”
After he finished his demonstrations, Archer, Little, and the rest of the wrestlers on hand — Megan Black, her younger brother Tucker Black, Jeren Glosser, Blake Marolf, Jason Crosby, Dillon Pigsley, Chance Wursta — and I gathered in the weight room next door where I talked to the Rockets about the upcoming season and wrestling in general.
During our brief discussion, some of the wrestlers were more talkative then others — Megan and Tucker Black were the most talkative — but everyone’s long-term goals were the same: win state as a team and at their individual weights.
The Rockets, who boasted a 21-6 record in duals last season, have all the pieces of the puzzle in place to make a run at the Class 1A state championship. They return six state qualifiers and two district qualifiers, including Megan Black, a two-time state qualifier and the only female Iowa wrestler to ever place at state (she finished eighth last season). Marolf also returns for his sophomore season after finishing third at state — he came within a hair’s length of making the finals; losing to Ogden sophomore Kyler Kiner in the semifinals in controversial fashion (he appeared to get a takedown in the final seconds of the third round, but the referee ruled it came a split second after the round had ended). Also, Pigsley transferred from the team in mid-season to a school in Arizona, where he finished fourth in the state tournament. He returned to the squad this season. Jeren Glosser and Jason Crosby and Tucker Black also qualified for state last season.
Megan Black said success in wrestling stems from more than just pure athletic ability.
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work,” she said.
Little, who will enter his first year as coach of the Rockets, has a combined 25 years of experience as a coach and a wrestler — he just expects his wrestlers to work hard and give their best effort every time they are on the mat.
“They [his wrestlers] make the commitment that they are going to be here every day and they are going to work every day,” he said.
The coach said his biggest responsibility is to make sure his wrestlers don’t make some of the same mistakes he made when he wrestled.
“I was very successful [as a wrestler],” Little said. “I had a few bumps along the way, so I’ve learned how to deal with the adversity of winning and the adversity of losing.
“I beat a kid in sectionals and districts my senior year who ranked No. 1 in the state and I got beat by him in state. You don’t take things for granted when you get those opportunities and you have to make those opportunities count.”
I want to send out a big thank you to Archer for the demonstrations and to all the Rocket wrestlers who took time out of their day to discuss the upcoming season. Overall, it was an eye-opening and enjoyable experience for someone trying to become more familiar with the sport.
Got a sports challenge for Courier sports writer Andy Heintz? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.