Henry had been the heavy-weight Wrestling national champion the year before I joined the college team. He was a big, handsome, Tongan man with brown skin and bear-like paws for hands. He was jovial and amicable. Everyone liked Henry.
Jim was tall with brownish hair and wrestled at 170. He was mild mannered and quiet, and had also been a national champion the year before. I was the runt of the threesome, Wrestling at 157 and new to the team. The three of us were the varsity trio in the upper weights that was considered a formidable force. Part of the reason for our success was because we worked out together.
Henry was the strongest and I was the fastest. Jim was in between on both qualities. My speed forced Henry and Jim to react faster and, likewise, their strength forced me to be cautious and alert. Because of our training together and our traveling as part of the team across the western U.S ., we developed a strong bond of friendship.
But our friendship also helped us see interesting aspects of each other. One such curiosity on the part of Jim and myself was Henry’s seeming lack of desire to have his family present when he wrestled.
We heard Coach talk to Henry. “Hey Henry, we are going to be Wrestling in Provo. Why don’t you invite your family to come watch?” Henry’s family was from Salt Lake City, and the trip to Provo wouldn’t be a long commute for them. Nonetheless, Henry declined.
Coach was persistent. Later we heard him again. “Henry, we are going to have a match in Salt Lake City. Why don’t you invite your family?” Still, Henry declined.
Then came the day of the conference championships. Henry, Jim, and I had all survived the first rounds and were each vying for the title in our individual weights. Henry, as usual, was late getting into the locker room to suit up for the match. Jim and I were there going through a few last minute moves and talking about what we knew of our opponents, when Coach excitedly came into the room. “Hey, guys! I decided to call Henry’s family myself. His mother and two brothers are coming to the championship match tonight. Let’s not tell Henry. We’ll just let it be a surprise.”
Soon, Henry joined us and, after he was suited up, we made our way to the gym to warm up. Jim and I scanned the crowd, but could see no one there that looked like Henry so, through our warm up, we kept watching the entrances. Henry looked at us quizzically and asked who we were looking for, but we managed to evade his questions.
Finally, the moment arrived when a Tongan woman and two men who looked like Henry, only larger, entered. Jim was first to notice and pointed in their direction. When I looked, so did Henry. Suddenly Henry gasped as if his heart would fail. “Oh no!”
Henry became tense and would say nothing to our queries about his reaction. He fumbled through the warm up, definitely not concentrating on the evening’s match.
Soon the competition began. I completed my match, and so did Jim, and finally it was Henry’s turn. Just as he approached the mat, his mother and two brothers, with booming Tongan accents, yelled, “Go Shooga Beahr!”
Henry could have wilted as Jim and I turned to each other with incredulous grins. “Sugar Bear?!”
I can’t remember if Henry won or not as we all cheered for “Sugar Bear”, led by his mother’s enthusiasm. But I do remember Henry walking off the mat and pointing at Jim and me, who were still stupidly grinning. He growled at us. “If I hear one ‘Sugar Bear’ out of either of you, you are dead meat!” So, obediently, we would never say it until he was on the mat in a competition, and then what could he do?
So I would just like to say one more thing. “Go Sugar Bear!”
Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at email@example.com; or visit his website at http://www.darishoward.com).