When My Son Met My Hero....

Through The Doors.....

In Western PA, there are TWO winter sports:  WRESTLING.... and the other one.  If you are a wrestler, we do not speak of the other, unless we're talking about collegiate, NCAA bracketing, etc.  We do not mention the other sport...unless we are trying to punk a friend by relating how much of a wuss he is, and that he needs to be in that other sport.

And yet there I was....4th grade bouncing that ball down the court back and forth, no contact, just trying to out-sprint the other kids and getting layups.  I sucked at it.  I didn't understand fouling out.  I didn't understand the difference between walking and traveling...I threw free throws like bricks....like a.....wrestl.....not yet, anyway.

Then one day, while shooting practice free throws at the back of the gym, this old crazy-haired, bow-legged man walked out from the back doors with steam pouring into the gym, followed by a dozen soaking wet kids wearing hoodies and sweatpants covered in sweat.  They looked like they had all just gotten beat up, but I dare not look them in the eyes....NO....they had a look about them that was like was warrior-like.  I kept shooting free throws... U G L Y free throws.  Coach Ernie Black would yell at me and tell me to pay attention to the game that I was playing....game. 

A week passed, but that old guy saw me again.This time, he looked at me, and asked me my name.  I told him....KRIEBEL.  He said, "you're a Kriebel, and you're out here?  Hmmm..."   He strutted away.  Coach Ernie told him to stay away from me, with a smile. (I look back now and miss the banter between Ernie Black or Mike Brown with the wrestling coaches.)

The next weekend, I was back on the court, and I positioned myself back by those doors again.  My friends from down the street were in there.  Through those doors....wearing sweat clothes, and some ear protector things.... Something about the look on those guys' faces when they came out was drawing me in. They looked hardened. Tough.

Then it happened again, the old man...."Kriebel!"  I heard.  The door swung open, and the cold air pushed in followed by steam.  "Kriebel!  Get over here!  Come with me...."  I dropped the ball, and walked through the doors...



The smells inside a wrestling room are unforgettable.  When I walked through those doors and the steam for the first time, what I saw scared me, I'll admit it.  I swear the room was 100 degrees and humid. You could smell the years of hard practices, the sweat, the furnace. There was red mat padding on every wall and door.  The heater was centrally located right in the middle of the room with vents pushing heat from all sides and a door in the middle to enter into the furnace. Different colored jump ropes hung off that padded furnace door, and several were strewn out in the corners off the room with red or white head gear.  A Vision Quest poster hung on one of the walls.  Several other faded out papers hung on other walls.  Their writing was barely legible.

Some guys were wrestling, others were jumping rope, while others yet were sitting and waiting their turn to jump in to wrestle.  I stood there next to the old man, who turned to me and said, "You're a Kriebel, and Kriebels WRESTLE." 

Everything else after that was a blur.  I just remember going home and telling my parents what happened and remember my dad telling me that Coach Ben Kundick WAS correct.  All my family wrestled.  My uncle Grant was a State wrestler, my cousins David Kriebel and Jimmy McCauley were State wrestlers. The Hook's (cousins) all wrestled.    My wrestling career began by being pulled off a basketball court and thrown into the furnace also known as a wrestling room.  My mentor....my coach.  Coach Ben Kundick introduced me to the wonderful sport of wrestling.  And many thanks to the great neighborhood dads from Hawthorn, with lots of sons...Dana Gould, and the Brinkers...I had a ride to practice every week.

Life Sometimes Gives You Lemons...

Not everything works out in life how you want it.   That being said...I never qualified for PIAA States in wrestling as a District 9 wrestler.  I look back and know that I didn't try hard enough.  Didn't focus hard enough.  Didn't go to enough camps.  Didn't wrestle in the off-season.  I wasn't as good as those who won Regionals and went on to States.  But knowing this, has made me push harder in everything else I have done.  To NOT quit...but to persevere.  It was the hard-as-nails practices which helped me become who I am today.  

Full Circle...

I swear, I prayed for a boy...just so he could become a wrestler.  I prayed for a strong boy...and I got twins.  A boy and a girl.  I got a strong, bull-headed, defiant as nails, kicking/screaming boy.  And a beautiful, loving, sweet little girl.  Sometimes you take what you can get, and be happy.  They make me a proud father.

I don't know how it happened, but my son was introduced to wrestling when he was 6, at the end of March.  In other words, at the END of the season.  My son's first coach was Dave "Papa Bear" Pelsang, a USA Wrestling referee, and a high school coach with an offseason club in the area.  Within 2 weeks, my son showed a lot of promise.  He was aggressive, he did the moves they were showing, and he loved getting the approval and attention from the coaches and high school kids.  Coach Dave approached me one night and told me that I needed to get him into the upcoming weekend tournament, and get him involved now.  So we did.  And he loved getting that 1st Place medal.  He carried it for days around his neck.  And in the meantime, we met another great club, run by Matt and Edie Hernandez.  Jackson loved hanging out with their team, as well as the OBX club.  Our first wrestling friends. 

We soon joined the club that we had been seeing at the tournaments, Hernandez Wrestling Academy.  Great place.  There were maybe 9-10 kids wrestling, and Jackson felt at home....and was soon joined by his sister, Gracie, who was nicknamed the Smiling Assassin.  They began competing together with the team, and having a great time.  Wrestling allowed them to make many new friends.

The seasons went by.  The losses added up and then the wins soon started coming.  The muscles started showing.  Chain wrestling.  Doing moves that we didn't teach.  He was a natural.  3rd Season.... Both kids were doing great.  They loved going to practice and they loved the traveling we did to the different tournaments.  

Going Home....

I decided to take Jackson up to New Bethlehem, to my home town and let him wrestle in the local tournament at Redbank Valley HS.  I was hoping I could introduce him to my old coaches.  Maybe have them get a peak at the next line of wrestlers in the family.  I took him to the high school and ran into Coach Mike Kundick at weigh ins.  He asked me if I was moving back home, and that Jackson was welcome to wrestle on the team when he got older.  THAT right there plants a seen in my head. 

The locker room had the same old smell.  Sweat, paint, icy hot. The same old scale was there that I weighed in on back in the 80's, I swear.  Just off in the corner, replaced by a newer digital scale.  Several other dads that I haven't seen since high school are there, and happy to have us up from NC.  Jackson is nervous.  Mike weighs him in...60 lbs.  The brackets go up.  NOT Trackwrestling brackets....no we are old school.  Two mats.  Wrestlers are announced over the gym microphone from the head table in the bleachers. Some things should never change.  This is one.

Jackson is in a 6 man round robin with several others kids from the surrounding counties.  He's up against his first opponent, and Aunt Cheri and I are filming matside...and then we get a referee surprise.  Randy Evans is reffing.  Evans was himself a legendary wrestler, and now a certified referee for the state.  Whistle blows.....PIN.  Jackson smiles and gets his hand raised.  The confidence grows.  He proceeds to focus on each wrestler and beats each wrestler either by pin or tech fall.  Evans intentionally gets in my way to give me a swipe on the hat with his hand, showing approval of the kid out there wrestling.  Jackson takes 1st Place.

The congratulations and compliments made me feel great that I had him in the right program down in NC.  His hard work had payed off.  

But disappointment soon followed, as I learned that Coach Ben didn't make it to the tournament.  Major disappointment.  I just wanted him to meet my son, and say thank you for pulling me off that basketball court back then.  Jackson asked if he could go get his trophy, and I said Yes.  Aunt Cheri said she would take him to get it. 

I gathered up my belongings and Jackson's wrestling bag and shoes, and stopped to talk to a buddy.  Time flies when you start talking about the past. And honestly, I wanted to take in the smells, the sounds, and the memories of this place a little longer. Soon enough, I realize that Jackson and Cheri are waiting for me.  As I walked out the gym, I hear that gruff wrestling coach voice that is still ingrained in my memory.... I walk out to see Coach Ben shaking hands and talking to MY SON.  Smiling as always.  He asked him (seeing that he's holding a big trophy), "How did you do today?" And Jackson replies, "I won".  Coach replies, "Of course you did, you're a Kriebel."  


Thank you to the Kundick Family who have influenced so many of our lives.


-written by Carl Kriebel
Head Coach of BeastWorks Wrestling Club
Jacksonville, North Carolina



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