Thanksgiving is best known for family get-togethers, and eating.
Eating a lot — making it a not-so favorite time of year for area wrestlers.
While the process is not like it used to be, there are still plenty of wrestlers who find themselves having to trim down to compete in a certain weight class.
That’s right, even during the Thanksgiving holidays.
“Yeah, I pretty much never get to really go crazy and eat whatever I want on Thanksgiving. It’s tough,” said Belvidere sophomore Geren Stapleton, who has been wrestling for eight years and isn’t sure if he’ll wrestle at 120, 126 or 132 this year.
“It’s a mental toughness thing. You have to be strong,” Stapleton said. “Last year, I had a tournament two days after Thanksgiving, and I really couldn’t eat. You just have to do it.”
More: High school sports High school football in the Rockford area: Complete coverage from the 2023 season
Things have changed from the days when wrestlers would do anything they could — from starving to sweating to spitting to going to the bathroom or a combination of them all — to quickly lose a lot of weight just before tournaments.
Today, there are rules in place to curb the dangers of trying to slash too much weight too quickly, including how the IHSA makes teams establish a baseline weight class for each wrestler at the start of the season and mandatory skin-fold measurement.
More: High school wrestling Freeport’s Logan Schwartz has gone from hospital bed to wrestling mat in record time
But even still, according to the National Federation of State High School Unions: “One-third of high school wrestlers have reported engaging in cyclic weight-control practices more than 10 times per season.”
“I’ve had to watch what I eat pretty much every Thanksgiving I can remember,” said Dakota’s Jason Bowers, who placed sixth at state last year at 138 pounds. He’s trying to wrestle at 144 this year. “I always want to pig out, but it’s just not in it for me to do that this time of year.
“It’s brutal. I always have to go with a small, little plate.”
Of course, there are those on the other side of the scale, so to speak.
Belvidere’s Diego Martinez, a freshman on Belvidere, has been wrestling since he was a little kid. He’s also been watching what he eats at Thanksgiving ever since he can remember. But not this year.
Martinez weighs 92 pounds and will wrestle at the lowest weight class in high school, 106. He’s got plenty of room to eat.
“It’s going to be so great. I’m so ready for this Thanksgiving,” Martinez said. “This is, I think it’s the first time that I can really eat whatever I want. I’m just psyched.”
Like his son, Diego’s father and head coach at Belvidere, Danny Martinez, has been on both sides of the scale throughout his wrestling career. He figures his son will be the same.
“You just have to do it the right way,” said Martinez, who was a state champ for Belvidere at 103 pounds in 1999. “When it comes to Thanksgiving, it’s just like anything else. You have to be strong.”
Jay Taft is a Rockford Register Star sports reporter. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @JayTaft. Sign up for the Rockford High School newsletter at rrstar.com. Jay has covered a wide variety of sports, from the Chicago Bears to youth sports, since the turn of the century at the Register Star, and for over 30 years all together.