By Roger Barbee
Each high school sport is special in its own way, and each offers unique rewards for those students who participate. In fact, any of the non-curricular activities offered by a school is worth the time and energy required. Being a cheerleader, writing for a school newspaper, running cross-country races, playing the violin in the school orchestra, all of these and more are available for a student to explore. Having participated in, or sponsored, or coached several activities and sports, I appreciate their value. Yet, the one I continue to enjoy most is wrestling, and I currently coach it at a local high school.
The wrestling season is under way and like all wrestlers, ours are in the room every day working hard to prepare for coming meets. They practice to learn new moves, new counters to moves, and drill known moves to build muscle memory. During practice, the wrestlers work with each other to improve their own skills, but also those of their teammates. Like all wrestlers everywhere, ours also participate in live wrestling during where each participant competes against his teammates to test his mettle. It is during these periods of live wrestling or during sessions of intense conditioning, when I see the strain on their faces, when the floor mats are slippery with sweat, when fatigue begins to control their bodies, when they are spent from physical and mental work, that I remind them, "Don't forget, David Hooper would love to be in the room with you right now."
In 1976 David Hooper became the head wrestling coach at an all-boys Catholic school in Alexandria. He had learned the sport as a wrestler for the legendary Vic Blue, principal and wrestling coach at Wakefield High School in Arlington. As a senior, David was the 98-pound Virginia AAA state champion, and he continued wrestling at Lycoming College.
A good wrestler, David was a better coach. Like all great coaches, David was, first and foremost, a good teacher. As a student and teacher of history, he understood that wrestling was like history - something to study and learn from in order to make your personal life better. Thus, wrestling was a means to an end, just like the study of historical events, cultures, and people. Each summer he and a lifelong friend would travel to various countries in order to see firsthand their history, places, and people. Like all good teachers, David was a student first, then a teacher. Be it baseball (his first love), history, or wrestling, David approached it in a surgical manner. Always the teacher, he shared with his many friends what he had learned.
After a few years of intense competition between two all-boy's schools, the school where I worked hired him, and we finally had a chance to work together. We taught the same students, and he and I ran the Christmas tournament hosted by our school, and I saw firsthand his mastery of teaching and coaching, and his zest for life. Over the years our academic careers grew apart, but each Christmas I attended the tournament to work with him. Also, each year following the National Prep Tournament at Lehigh University, he and I would talk as he gave me a detailed summary of the outstanding matches.
Through teaching and the sport of wrestling, we developed a friendship that became a constant source of pleasure. Then the signet cell cancer invaded his body. In his last year he fought the cancer, drove himself to and from treatments and to Fairfax Hospital, attended his last Christmas tournament to see all the boys who had wrestled for him, and he took a last summer trip to Israel. Ever the teacher, David's final lesson for us was how to live and enjoy life while dying from a random disease when you are too young. On a beautiful, early September day, when he would have been preparing for classes, he lost his most important match.
In our wrestling room, when all of us are mentally and physically spent, I remind the wrestlers how much David Hooper would like to be in that room with us. By saying that, I hope to remind them that being in the room is a privilege that will pass quickly enough, so enjoy it now. Like all activities at all schools, the reward comes in the work. Get out and join a club, the band, or a team. And hope you meet a teacher like David Hooper.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at email@example.com.