Somebody has to be the worst…
When it comes to high school wrestling, I’m probably in the running.
It’s better than a half-century since I last stepped out onto the mat, eyes narrowed, ready to meet an opponent in an intimate man-to-man (boy-to boy?) contest of strength, speed, agility, guile and physical determination — qualities, all of which, I proved to lack in varied proportions.
But when a guy’s 13 he doesn’t know these things. But even I knew that standing a scrawny four feet and fractions, my prospects as a basketball star were exceedingly limited and football was an obvious hazard to my health. But wrestling was held out to be a sport for guys of any size, just the ticket for an undersized klutz looking to join the ruling junior high jockocracy.
So, I went out for wrestling. Unfortunately for me, the only talent associated with top-ranked wrestlers I could display was the ability to run my mouth in a manner Jesse Ventura would strive to match — a quality that hardly endeared me to the varsity starters who proceeded to teach me that, when put to the test, I could run faster scared than they could run mad.
It didn’t take long before the coach took matters in hand.
Now Ed Ferkingstad was a man up to a challenge. He’d started the Caledonia High wrestling program, and three seasons after first rolling out the mat his team was recognized as an up-and-coming powerhouse in the old Root River Conference. One more mouthy pipsqueak was just one more challenge. He went to work.
Now they say the mark of a great coach is the ability to recognize what they need to do to get the best out of each and every athlete – and Ed Ferkingstad turned farm boys into champions. He challenged ordinary kids to do extraordinary things and with work and sweat and desire they did them.
So day after day, week after week we both gave it our best, but to say it didn’t work out well would be like saying the Titanic sprung a small leak.
It’s not that he didn’t try and it’s not that I didn’t try, but no matter how much effort goes into it, teaching a fish to ride a bicycle is gonna meet with limited success. Going into my third season of competition I’d posted a perfect record…no wins, all losses. I couldn’t even lay claim to a tie.
Now like I said, a great coach is able to recognize the talent in each of the kids he works with and see to it that talent is developed as best it can be. I’m guessing that’s why, after adding one more loss to that perfect record, he took me aside and pointed out that with my particular talents I’d likely find more success on the debate team than on the wrestling mat.
He was right, y’know. We didn’t talk our way to any championships, but we did well enough, and it put me on a path that led to a career that led to the words you’re reading now.
And here’s the thing, to do it, I had to be a quitter — admit there were some things that, no matter how I tried or what I did my best efforts, were doomed to fail and give up on those so I could go ahead and do what I really could do. And to do that, I needed to have somebody I respected teach me it was the right thing to do.
Now a coach often gets credit for nurturing champion athletes, Ed Ferkingstad did that and he deserves every accolade it brought him.
But he also coached what may well be the worse wrestler to come out of Caledonia High, and coached him to a different kind of lifetime success.
Thanks coach, and rest in peace.
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