Home > Making Faces(14)

Making Faces(14)
Author: Amy Harmon

“Welcome to Hershey, Pennsylvania, the sweetest place on Earth, and welcome to the Giants Center where we are looking live at day one of the 2002, high school wrestling championships,” the announcer’s voice boomed out in the enormous arena that was packed with parents and wrestlers, friends and fans, all dressed in their school's colors, signs held high, hopes held higher. Bailey and Fern were positioned in prime seating, right on the arena floor with the mats that were spread from one end to the other.

According to Bailey, sometimes being in a wheel chair had its advantages. Plus, being a coach's kid and the top stat keeper gave him a job to do, and Bailey was all about doing it. Fern's job was to assist Bailey with stat-keeping–as well as making sure he had food and a set of legs and hands–and to let Coach Sheen know when Bailey needed a bathroom break or something she couldn't provide. They had it down to a science.

They would plan breaks between rounds, mapping out each day before it started. Sometimes it was Angie who played assistant, sometimes one of Bailey's older sisters, but most of the time it was Fern at Bailey's side. On bathroom breaks, Bailey filled his dad in on the team standings, the point spreads, the individual races, as his dad helped him do the things he couldn't do for himself.

Between all of them, with Coach Sheen doing the heavy lifting when it was needed, Bailey hadn't ever missed a tournament. Coach Sheen had gained a little notoriety and more than a little respect throughout the wrestling community as he'd juggled the responsibilities to his team with the needs of his son. Coach Sheen always claimed he got the better end of the deal–Bailey had an amazing mind for facts and figures and had made himself indispensable.

Bailey had witnessed every one of Ambrose Young's matches at every one of his state tournaments. Bailey loved to watch Ambrose wrestle more than anyone else on the team, and he hollered as Ambrose took the mat for his first match of the tournament. According to Bailey, it shouldn't be a contest. Ambrose was far superior in every way, but those first matches were always some of the scariest, and everyone was eager to get them out of the way.

In his first round, Ambrose was matched up with a kid from Altoona that was far better than his record. He'd clinched the third spot in his district, making it to state by the skin of his teeth in an overtime match. He was a senior, he was hungry, and everyone wants to knock the champion from the pedestal. To make things worse, Ambrose wasn't himself. He seemed tired, distracted, even unwell.

When the match started, more than half of the eyes in the arena were riveted on the action in the far left corner, even though there were almost a dozen other matches going on at the same time. Ambrose was his normal, offensive self, shooting first, moving more, constantly making contact, but he was off his game. He started his shots from too far back and then didn't finish them when he might have scored. The big kid from Altoona gained confidence as the first two minutes came to an end and the score was tied at zero. Two minutes with Ambrose Young with it all tied up was something to take pride in. Ambrose should be putting the hurt on him, but he wasn't, and everyone watching knew it.

The whistle started the second round and it was more of the same, except maybe worse. Ambrose kept trying to stir something up, but his attempts were half-hearted, and when his opponent chose down and was able to get an escape, it was Ambrose 0, the Altoona Lion 1. Bailey roared and moaned from the sidelines, and at the end of the second period with the score still 0-1, Bailey started to make efforts to get Ambrose's attention.

He started chanting “Hercules! Hercules! Hercules!”

“Help me, Fern!” he urged. Fern wasn't much of a chanter or a yeller, but she was starting to feel sick, like something was way off with Ambrose. She didn't want him to lose this way. So she joined Bailey in the chant. A few of the fans were sitting close to the corner and without much urging, they chimed in too.

“Hercules, Hercules, Hercules,” they roared, understanding that the demi-god of Hannah Lake was about to be dethroned. Ambrose Young was losing.

With twenty seconds left in the match, the referee stopped the match for the second time because the 197 pound lion from Altoona needed to adjust the tape on his fingers. Because it was the second time the action had been stopped, Ambrose would be able to choose his position–up, down, or neutral–to end the match.

Bailey had maneuvered himself to the edge of the mat next to the two chairs designated for Hannah Lake coaches. No one challenged him. Perks of being in a wheel chair. You got away with a lot more than you otherwise would.

“Hercules!” he shouted at Ambrose, and Ambrose shook his head in disbelief. He was listening to his coaches, but not listening. When Bailey interrupted, the frenzied instructions ceased and three sets of frustrated eyes turned on him.

“What are you yelling about, Sheen?” Ambrose was numb. In twenty seconds his shot at a four-peat would go up in smoke. And he couldn't seem to shake off the lethargy, the sense that none of this was real.

“Remember Hercules?” Bailey demanded. It really wasn't a question, the way he shoved the statement at Ambrose.

Ambrose looked incredulous and more than a little confused.

“Remember the story about the lion?” Bailey insisted impatiently.

“No . . .” Ambrose adjusted his headgear and looked over at his opponent who was still getting his fingers wrapped while his coaches threw instructions at him and tried not to look euphoric over the turn of events.

“This guy's a lion too. An Altoona Mountain Lion, right? Hercules's arrows weren't working on the lion. Your shots aren't working either.”

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