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TUPPER: In praise of wrestling moms

It's part of our family lore, remembered by all and even captured on VHS tape.

It happened during one of the dozens of wrestling tournaments we attended when I was a kid.

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I don't remember the exact place or year, but I clearly recall the scene.

On the opposite side of the gym, the crowd began to dissipate around a woman seated on the bleachers, and we knew why.

She was one of those wrestling moms who gets overly animated when her son is on the mat. In fact, "overly animated" is too mild a description. "Temporarily insane" might be more accurate.

The people seated around her noticed that her son was about to step on the mat, and they didn't want to be anywhere near her mouth or elbows.

My dad must have been bored or in an odd mood. He grabbed the video camera that he always brought along to film his sons' wrestling matches, and he pointed it across the gym. By that time, the woman was isolated by a buffer zone of at least 10 feet on all sides.

Her son's match began, and so did the show.

She scooted and bounced from side to side. She leaned tensely when her son got into a tight spot. She cringed. She shouted. She jumped up and down. She flailed her arms wildly.

My dad videotaped the whole thing, and his unceasing laughter provided the soundtrack for later viewings. We watched it over and over and even considered sending it to one of those funniest-home-video television shows, but we never did.

I thought about that video recently when The Daily Republic's Luke Hagen wrote a feature story about wrestling moms. The story was accompanied by a series of photos taken by Daily Republic photographer Sean Ryan. The photos depicted a wrestling mom in all manner of contortions as her son competed in a regional tournament.

I have my own wrestling mom. She wasn't as animated as the woman on the videotape or the woman in those recent photos, but she left her share of tournaments exhausted and hoarse.

Growing up in Kimball, I was surrounded by lots of wrestling moms. Once when I was probably about 12, I was seated next to a mom who was watching her high-school-age son in a close and important match. She got so nervous and was so lost in the moment that she unconsciously latched her hand onto my leg just above the knee. When her son got into a precarious position, she squeezed harder, and it actually hurt. I didn't say a word. I was a kid, after all, and what does a kid say to a grown woman who's obviously suffering a temporary break from reality? When the match ended, so did her trance, and she looked down and realized what she was doing. Her face flushed and she apologized profusely.

It didn't bother me. I knew wrestling moms, and I knew she couldn't help it.

It's not as easy to be forgiving when it's your own mom. Wrestling sons often wonder why their moms can't control themselves. I suppose it's partly because the moms are so invested in the sport. As Luke's story pointed out, many wrestling moms serve as their son's unofficial nutritionist, cheerleader, consoler and coach. When they put so much into it, it's no wonder so much passion pours out.

Can it get embarrassing? Sure. Sometimes they go a little crazy.

But that's probably OK. Just think how much better off we'd be if we all had someone so rabidly devoted to our success.