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GIBSON CITY — For Josh Wallick, it’s pizza.
For Cameron Schwing, it’s chocolate chip cookies.
For Hunter Lowry, it’s a McDouble from McDonald’s.
With angus seasoning and Big Mac sauce.
All foods the three Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher juniors who are a critical part of the Falcons’ success so far this season want to eat, but make do without from mid-November until mid-February.
“It stinks not being able to eat out with friends,” said Lowry, a junior who wrestles at 106 or 113 pounds for the Falcons, “but it will help me with wrestling.”
All wrestlers across the state can’t just go to McDonald’s after a match or order a pizza.
Instead they refuel their bodies with fruits, whole-grain cereal, bagels and vegetables.
“Eating during wrestling season is pretty different from other sports because normally you try to focus on carbohydrates right before a football game,” said Wallick, a junior who is the state’s top-ranked wrestler in Class 1A at 285 pounds, “but in this sport, you actually have to try and watch (what you eat) better.”
Parents help out
Josh Carter wants to see his team challenged.
With the reputation of success the Falcons have built up throughout the years, the third-year head coach doesn’t want to see the expectation level diminish.
It’s why the Falcons hit the road quite often during the season.
Tournaments like the Reaper Classic in Plano in early December, the Princeton Invitational in early January and this weekend’s Bob Mitton Tournament in Orion require plenty of time spent on buses traveling the state and plenty of time in hotel rooms.
These two-day tournaments involve two or more hours of travel time before wrestling begins on a Friday evening and then continues again on Saturday morning.
Throughout the whole time span, the wrestlers need to eat, obviously.
But the wrestlers don’t just stop at the nearest fast food place on the way back to the hotel or all go out for a team dinner at a local steakhouse.
Sandwiches are about the biggest meals the wrestlers will eat in an effort to maintain their weight and have the opportunity to wrestle in their specified weight class.
“Normally when we get done wrestling on Friday, we go back to the hotel, and I’ll eat a sandwich, check my weight and see how much I can eat,” said Schwing, who advanced to the state meet last year at 106 and is a likely contender to do so at 113 this year. “I eat peanut butter and jelly. I live off that during wrestling season.”
Along with the ever-popular peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Carter likes his squad to eat sandwiches that have lean lunch meats, along with vegetables and fruits in between or after matches.
The program receives a boost for the weekend tournaments. The wrestlers themselves aren’t responsible for bringing their own food.
“We actually have parents who sign up to bring the food,” Carter said. “It will rotate among different parents. We give them a guide as far as the kind of things we want.
They pack coolers, bring it and (the wrestlers) eat out of that. At our parent meeting at the beginning of the year, we give out the food guide.
“Some parents are more involved than others with that, but just the fact that the parents step up and do the food for the kids on the weekends is a huge benefit.”
Schwing is appreciative of the food preparation by the parents.
“It’s very helpful,” he said. “I’m very thankful that we have families bring food for us. Providing your own food can be difficult sometimes.”
Sticking to specific foods
Resisting certain foods during the season can prove difficult.
Knowing the end goal is a spot on the floor of the Assembly Hall in the state finals and a possible chance to experience the Grand March — where the lights are turned off and spotlights put on wrestlers before their state championship match — is a thought that runs often through the mind of Wallick, who placed third at 285 last year as a sophomore.
“It kind of puts it into perspective when you’re home and you open up the fridge door thinking what should I eat,” Wallick said. “Should I eat a yogurt or some leftover pizza?”
Greek yogurt is usually the option for Wallick. He, along with other wrestlers, however, have to deal with not giving in to the temptation of eating unhealthy food during the school day.
“It’s pretty difficult,” Wallick acknowledged with a smile. “It depends what kind of mind-set you’re in at the time, but when you’re really hungry, and someone is offering food to you, which happens a lot in high school, it’s tempting for most of us.”
The Fisher Student Council recently sold lollipops and candy bars for a fundraiser during school. Harmless items, right? Wrong, according to Lowry.
“People will ask, ‘Hey, do you want to buy one?’” Lowry said. “I’ll be starving but I can’t.”
It doesn’t just involve food, either. Cutting out soda pop during wrestling season is almost a necessity for wrestlers.
Which makes it hard for Lowry, who relies on water, lemonade or Gatorade.
“I haven’t had a real pop in about two months,” Lowry said with a laugh. “I had Sprite once when I was sick. Pop is the biggest thing because pop is everywhere. I went to a Christmas party, and that’s all they had. I usually stick with Gatorade or lemonade.”
But not before he weighs in before a match. At this point, Lowry chooses water.
Once weigh-ins are complete, Lowry might snack on a banana or a bagel. He typically puts peanut butter or cream cheese on the bagel, depending how hungry he is.
And it’s not just a plain bagel. Lowry prefers the cinnamon raisin bagels.
And he might indulge himself with some strawberry preserves on the bagel if he is “really hungry.”
Lowry, like most other wrestlers, want energy before they head out for what might turn into a six-minute match.
“My approach to it is to try and educate them the best I can, and then the ball is kind of in their court,” Carter said. “I try to not micromanage that. They understand that they need a certain level of energy for six minutes, and the junk food is just not going to get it.”
Keeping their energy up
For wrestlers like Wallick, Schwing, Lowry and seniors Chet McClure, Dylan Donner and Jake Shubert, weekend tournaments usually end with them wrestling four or perhaps five matches.
Keeping their weight consistent along with making sure they have enough food in their system to prevent fatigue is almost as vital as any move or technique they use on the mat.
“Some of the matches that will take me the whole six minutes definitely drain me so I have to keep eating the healthy food to keep my energy up,” Schwing said. “I’ve had a couple matches this year where I’ve gone out there and have felt like I didn’t have enough energy to wrestle. Just switching what I ate completely changed that.”
That the wrestling season starts right after Thanksgiving and also has Christmas in the middle — two holidays known for their prodigious food intake — makes it doubly hard for wrestlers at times.
“Luckily with Thanksgiving I had a few days after, so I kind of ate quite a bit and let myself go with the junk food there,” Schwing said. “Christmas, same thing. I had a few days there, but then I started working out.”
In basketball, a few days of eating poorly and not working out might affect their conditioning a bit.
Athletes might get more winded running up and down the court than they’re used to. In wrestling, a few days of eating poorly and then not working out might cause them to not make weight and miss a match.
“Mainly knowing that I shouldn’t be eating the food is the hardest part,” Schwing said. “If I do eat the food, I know I can still lose the weight, but it’s just knowing that I can’t eat anything and everything is the hardest part.”
Wrestlers in the Falcons’ program weigh themselves daily to see what their weight is at.
While wrestlers can watch what they eat all they want, they still need to have some strength.
After all, they’re trying to pick up their competitors at times or turn their bodies in ways to ensure a pin.
The Falcons lift weights twice a week in the morning before school at Fisher High School, and spend part of their preseason practices doing workouts not typically seen in other sports.
A preseason practice in mid-November featured several Falcons taking turns climbing a rope to the ceiling of their practice gymnasium at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Middle School or carrying sand bags while stepping up on high boxes.
“It’s part of knowing if a kid has gone through puberty and has stopped growing for the most part,” Carter said. “A kid like Hunter, he needs to put on probably 5-8 pounds of muscle before next year and then wrestle 106 again because I don’t think he’s going to grow a whole lot more. We have some freshmen kids who are still growing and maturing. It hasn’t been too big of an issue where a kid hits a growth spurt in the middle of the season.”
Having wrestlers certify in their specific weight classes so they can wrestle in that weight class during the postseason is also a juggling act for Carter and his wrestlers.
It has been typical this season to see Schwing wrestle at 113 or 120, along with Donner — a state qualifier last year — wrestling at either 120, 126 or 132. Schwing will most likely try to qualify for state at 113, with Donner doing the same at 120 or 126.
Each wrestler can certify at different dates depending when the Illinois High School Association determines it.
“The date varies for kid to kid because we do the body fat testing at the beginning of the year, and then we do a printout of what their lowest weight can be at and then when do they need to be there,” Carter said. “They have a weight they can certify at, and that’s the lowest weight they can wrestle at. Beyond that, they can weigh in one at weight class above that and then wrestle another weight class above that. Donner has weighed in before at 126 and wrestled 132, but if he weighs in above 126 (after his certification date), he’s a 132-pounder for the rest of the year. It’s one of those where you have to be careful about how you do that. There’s definitely some information you have to learn.”
Wait might be worth it
Whoever GCMS/Fisher will have wrestling at Assembly Hall in Champaign in mid-February, the routine of a weekend tournament that consists of eating well, staying overnight and then going against some of the state’s elite wrestlers will feel familiar.
This weekend’s Bob Mitton Tournament is the last two-day event for GCMS/Fisher until whoever emerges to wrestle at state.
“We do stay overnight for state just because weigh-ins are at about 6 or 6:30 a.m.,” Carter said. “It cuts down on 45 minutes of time for us. That is one of the nice things that they’ve done it three times beforehand and have got in that routine of what to eat, when to eat it and sleeping in a hotel. Guys that are more disciplined will do better than the guys that aren’t.”
The discipline might result in a few state medals, maybe even some state titles this year for the talented and veteran group Carter has at his disposal. Such discipline, however, might fly out the window in the subsequent hours after the final Saturday of the season.
“We’ve had some kids come back after Saturday to the next Monday, and literally there’s a 15-pound difference,” Carter said with a laugh. “As long as it’s not during the season, it’s OK, but there’s definitely some of those situations where it happens.”
For Wallick, Schwing and Lowry, pizza, chocolate chip cookies and McDoubles might be the first item on their mind after the season ends. If it ends how they want it to, the wait was well worth it.
“Pizza is one thing you can’t really have during wrestling season,” Wallick said before his face breaks into a slight grin, “but after wrestling season ends, it’s open game.”