COLUMBIA — A man with a stopwatch nods to a girl wearing a green Show-Me State Games volunteer shirt. She stands and picks up the blue pool noodle from the table. Walking through the crowd of wrestlers, she makes her way to the mat and taps the referee on his shoulder with the blue noodle. The match is over.
Rolling up the sleeves of her green shirt, 8-year-old Ashleigh McKinley of Columbia returns to her seat at the judging table with a smile on her face.
Ashleigh said her volunteer position makes her feel important. Her job is to alert the ref when there are only five seconds left in the match.
“It makes me feel important because the game relies on the time, so I feel like the game relies on me,” Asleigh said.
She explained that time is very important in wrestling. The wrestlers have to pin their opponent in an allotted amount of time. Asleigh said the time limit makes the match more interesting to watch.
Her dad, Larry McKinley, said with the various matches going on at the same time, the refs do not always hear when time is called. The tournament organizers developed the noodle system as a safe way to alert the refs.
Ashleigh volunteered to be what her dad described as a “noodler,” because her brother was wrestling in the games and her mom wanted her daughter to have something to do.
“I actually didn’t decide. My mom signed me up,” Ashleigh said. “Last time my brother competed in the wrestling games, I fell asleep.”
Ashleigh said her job was fun, but she sometimes got bored waiting for her chance to tap the ref on the shoulder.
Larry McKinley said he and Ashleigh’s mom encouraged her to be a “noodler” hoping she would become interested in wrestling. Her parents think wrestling is a good conditioning sport and would like her to play on a girls’ team. They also think volunteering at the games is a worthwhile cause.
“We volunteer to give something back,” Larry McKinley said.