Wrestling Epic and the CARNIVORE Culture
My family knew nothing about wrestling when I entered high school and by the time my brother graduated eight years later, we were a full blown wrestling family (this doesn’t mean setting up camp in the corner of the gym with blankets for a whole freestyle Saturday, using grandpa’s motorized wheelchair to rope off one third of the perimeter and annex prime bleacher space, Sissy in dirty bare feet running amok, getting pitchers taken with Bubby after he won his weight class of three, and eating sandwich spread as is so often the case). For the Pankos, the transformation was one of passion, knowledge, and enlightening. The crowd in Avon High School’s packed Auxiliary Gym blatantly realized there was a difference in acoustics from Becky Panko’s whistle between the football field and the gym, and I am sure for those that did not grow up with that whistle, seven years later, the ringing continues.
The following are some great experiences from or that led to the Indiana State High School Athletic Association sanctioned Wrestling State Finals:
My wrestling life is paralleled to that of Colonel Harlan Sanders. The Colonel “made” it at age 69, I was slightly younger (a senior in high school) but I have never failed at anything more in my life than wrestling, and, subsequently, had I never wrestled, or more importantly, if Coach Bright had not cared enough to MAKE me wrestle, I would have never started a business, I would have substantially less faith in the American Dream and the CARNIVORE Culture would not exist. Aaah, yes, the CARNIVORE Culture is the product of FAILURE.
The genesis of my wrestling started when a lady at church talked my mom into taking me to the Brownsburg Wrestling Club…probably because I was big. That ill-fated decision lead to two monumental novelties – I was the only kid at freestyle tournaments that wore a shirt under his singlet, and my mom was my coach. If ignorance is bliss then ignorance ignorantly coaching ignorance would be the most supreme form of eternal utopian fantasy. Shockingly, I only lasted one season on the circuit, my crowning feat taking place at the Indy West (Ben Davis) Tournament where I got third out of three and that is only because the fourth kid left early.
My next touch and go involvement was as a seventh grader. I didn’t make the basketball team, and my mom threatened to make me swim. I have never had a more confounding fear in my life; I would have to wear Speedos. I talked my mom into letting me wrestle because I figured covered boy boobs would be less embarrassing than uncovered boy boobs and high cut briefs. I didn’t flirt with wrestling again until high school when Coach Bright, my eighth grade football coach and high school head wrestling coach made me wrestle. He told me it would make me a better lineman, I was on board. The seriousness of the situation compounded itself my first practice when it was discovered that the senior heavyweight quit. The Avon Wrestling Orioles were down to three heavyweights – all freshmen. Simmy Jublett would only last a month and was eventually kicked off the team for fornication with a mat maid, Bustin Jirch ended up being the inaugural Hoosier Crossroad’s Conference JV Tournament Runner-Up at heavyweight as a senior, and I, previously, wore a t-shirt under my singlet…so the bullpen was pretty full.
My first year on the mat was educational. The last week of my season, I wrestled the top ranked, fifth ranked and tenth ranked heavyweights in the state and finished the year with a deviated septum. My second season faired none better and by the end of it I had a career record of 15-43, lost every match when the dual meet came down to me, wrestled the first three of five eventual state champions I would wrestle in my high school career (it would have been six eventual champs and seven championships, but one guy couldn’t keep his middle finger to himself) and even made the ref raise my hand in a match I thought I won but had really lost (I still didn’t know green was home, red was away).
The above resume withstanding, I was fortunate to finish my wrestling career in Conseco Fieldhouse at State. The entire experience was the best of my athletic career – high school and college football and Strongman included – the parade of champions, the floor pass, being in the bowels of the Fieldhouse all day Saturday, the organ for the Finals Face-Off. The four walls of the Pacer’s locker room is the nicest place I have ever showered, and I finished my wrestling career being coached by my best friend and teammate Kyle Meunier.
Why was my teammate in my corner at State? The previous week at the Semi-State, the assistant coaches decided to partake in the brilliance of Casino Aztar, Evansville, IN and all she has to offer in an Avon High School Activity Vus (van front, bus back). After a night of drinks, they learned two things. One, they were not very good drunk drivers. Two, the Avon High School Activity Vus was NOT ABLE to outrun the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Deputy that pulled them over after a hit and run. An early morning phone call on February 11th, 2001 from Dr. Helton confirmed Avon Wrestling was down to one wrestling coach. So while Coach Bright was in Jimmy Williams’ corner during his 215 bout, Kyle Meunier was in my corner – the first but not last time he coached at Conseco.
2003 was an exciting year. Lynn, my brother, tracked falls, not pins, but people tripping and falling. Over two days, 19 wrestlers, spectators, coaches, refs, and table help fell at Conseco Fieldhouse. The best fall was executed by yours truly, walking down the stairs between Sections 101 and 102, in front of the entire Evansville Memorial Section, fresh shaved ice in hand, I got a little too confident in my steps. I tripped, my heels got caught behind and underneath, and I slid on both knees down the concrete steps like the kid who has never played baseball slides for the first time IN JEANS at practice. My saving grace was that Sections 101 and 102 are on the corner of Fieldhouse, so two thirds of the way down the stairs, they dogleg to the left. The dogleg saved the glass barrier along the bottom of the section and I slid into the back of someone’s seat.
The Panko Family arrived on the scene in 2001, when my dad got his first company vehicle. It was a Dodge Dakota, and only lasted about a year until Wood-Mizer gave him the Fishing Truck. The Fishing Truck was a late model 1990’s two-wheel drive Dodge 1500, and we were allowed to drive it until a co-worker saw one of us driving it and tattled on my dad. It was well known in the pre-Lucas Oil Stadium Days that the Clarion Hotel on South Capitol Avenue (God rest its soul) was the best free parking in downtown Indianapolis. Lynn and I drove the Fishing Truck for the Saturday sessions. I had never heard of daytime running lights, but apparently the Fishing Truck had them. When we pulled into the lot at the Clarion, I saw the lights “on” and turned them off. They were already “off,” and in doing, I so turned them on. That night, during the finals, Indianapolis got hit with a MAJOR snowstorm. We trudged the four blocks back to the truck only to find the battery was dead because I left the lights on. It took my mom two hours to make the 15 mile drive from Avon to come get us and another hour and a half to get home.
The 2005 Finals were awesome. Lynn won the 215 lb. State Championship, and came back strong from a terrible 2004 State showing. In 2010, Blaine Hall placed 7th and was the first wrestler since I opened PANKO Strength & Speed to place. The business had been open a few weeks, prior to that I had to train the team in the wrestling room. 2011 eclipsed them all. Neal Molloy was State Champion at 130 lbs., Aaron Stevenson was Runner-Up at 189, and Logan Cooper was Runner-Up at 215. Levi Moss who had also trained at PANKO Strength & Speed was 4th at 119. Four wrestlers, three in the finals, and another on the podium was a great night, especially since we were only a year in business.
This year Neal, 132, and his teammate Brayden Montgomery, 145, Brian Harvey, 160, and Bryan Snider, 285 are all wrestlers that trained at PANKO Strength & Speed. Two wrestlers that were part of the first batch of PANKO Strength & Speed athletes that I started training in October of 2009 at Avon High School, Jonah Zorniger and Dylan Jones are wrestling as is Levi Moss. Another new achievement, Trent McCormick Head Coach of Yorktown and PANKO Strength & Speed member is taking five of his wrestlers to the State Finals. The CARNIVORE Culture will have a lot of influence on the four mats this weekend, a far cry from the Indy West Tournament and my mom coaching me to be…
So here it is the cusp of the 74th IHSAA Wrestling State Finals, go early, stay late, and take it all in. No matter what they say, save seats and run to save seats. The ushers prohibit both practices, but everyone does and will always do it. Those that listen to the ushers will be SOS (crap outta seat) and watching the finals in the balcony. They have water fountains, so drinks do not NEED to be purchased. There are a lot of vendors and many choices, but unless shaved ice is bought from the toothless hill-Billy that covers up his skullet with a tie-dye hat and yells “SAY’V DICE” then it’s just a snow cone.
PANKO Strength & Speed, Because of Wrestling, Proud Stewards of the American Dream