Six-year-old Coltan Adkisson roams the bullpen with other wrestlers at a tournament in Hannibal. Some of the young wrestlers cling to their coaches or parents or nervously straighten their singlets. Others congregate according to their hometowns, eyeing the competition, perhaps guessing which one they’ll wrestle.
Not Coltan. On this Saturday in mid-January, he doesn’t need a hand to hold, and he doesn’t need other 6-year-olds to give him moral support — which is a good thing because he’s the youngest wrestler from Centralia at the meet.
After being matched up, he hurls all 45 pounds of his bony self at his rival. The calm from the bullpen is translated to intensity on the mat. Moving in and out, dodging and wriggling away, Coltan tunnels his concentration into winning his first match.
“Coltan, get the wrist, get that wrist!” coach Bryan Schmidt hollers from the side of the mat.
Coltan whips his head around and makes eye contact with Schmidt, then returns to his match, following directions and feeling his way through the round.
Within minutes, Coltan pins his Moberly competitor, bounds over to shake hands with both coaches, then races up the stands to get a congratulatory hug from his mother.
Coltan loves wrestling, especially the tournaments. He calls it “the Real Wrestling” and isn’t deterred by practicing twice a week or waking up at 5 a.m. for the tournaments.
Coltan’s older brother, Johnny, wrestles as well and is on the varsity team at Centralia High School.
“(Coltan has) grown up seeing his brother doing it, so he decided it was his turn,” Sheila Adkisson says.
His brother has taught him moves, as well.
“They’ve been doing it since he was little bitty,” Adkisson says.
In Coltan’s first tournament the previous weekend, he placed first.
Of course, you can’t win all the time, and part of wrestling is losing. For some on the Centralia team, the tournament in Hannibal was their first loss. Cody Yager, 7, lost his first match and came away a bit disappointed until his mother talked to him.
“I just told him he did really good and tried his best, and that’s all that counts,” Becky Yager says.
Down on the floor, pandemonium reigns. As the tournament progresses, the older wrestlers get their chance on the mats. They line the floor, stretching out, bouncing from side to side, warming up and psyching up. The competing referee’s whistles pierce the air continually, as coaches scream instructions and parents cheer from the stands. The boys wait, pacing around, some in circles, some aimlessly. They practice moves, run in place, swing their arms, drop for push-ups.
The coaches jump from one mat to another, trying to keep track of their wrestlers. Schmidt, Centralia’s head coach, brought 21 kids to compete. He has been involved with wrestling since 1973, and this is his first year as head coach.
“It gets in your blood,” Schmidt says.
The Centralia Panthers Youth Wrestling Club has 34 wrestlers this year, kindergarten through eighth grade. They practice at different times Monday through Thursday. A father of four wrestlers, Schmidt coaches his own children.
Coltan’s second match can’t live up to his first, and he suffers defeat. But he walks off the mat with his head held high and, moving a little slower than the first time, goes up to the stands for another hug from Mom.
“I try to teach them that coming off with their head up and no tears, that makes a man out of them,” Schmidt says. “It’s harder when you lose a wrestling match, because it’s one-on-one. But you’ll get a lot more respect from people if you win or lose, come off the mat with your head up and no tears.”
Coltan won fourth-place at the tournament and has several more meets.
Schmidt says, “My motto is, you learn how to lose — and then you learn how to win.”