While amateur backyard wrestling is becoming popular across America, with more than 700 “official” organizations involved, parents have cause for concern when their children get involved. Kids, in the name of sport, are getting injured even more severely with amateur backyard wrestling than when they participate in others activities like contact football.
One of the big appeals to the sport is that a bunch of kids – usually but not exclusively male teens from puberty onward – can get together in a backyard, an empty field, or a vacant lot to participate in what they believe is great fun. It doesn’t usually cost much for the equipment they use, where old pieces of plywood and such are pressed into service, and many parents heartily approve.
Says Mary Lewis of Rochester, NY, whose sixteen-year-old son, Daniel, helped start an amateur backyard wrestling group in their neighborhood, “I must prefer Danny and his friends battle it out in my rear yard where I can see them. To me, it’s must better than to have them hang out on a street corner doing drugs and getting into trouble.”
Yet Mary also admits that Daniel has suffered some less-than-minor injuries as a result of his amateur backyard wrestling. When he began two years ago, he broke his tibia and his nose in quick succession. Since then, he has had stitches on half a dozen occasions and suffers from a persistent ringing in his ears.
While hardly enough to make him cut down on the average twenty hours a week he and about a dozen friends spend practicing moves, Daniel admits he does worry sometimes that he could become more seriously hurt. He reports he recently saw a spot on the news that chronicled the stories of at least teenage amateur backyard wrestlers who are now confined to wheelchairs and constant care after they hit their heads.
“Most of what we do is fancy moves more than real combat, just like the pros,” says Daniel. “But things go wrong, especially when you get somebody new who doesn’t know how to toss somebody safely. My best friend went down that way once and we thought he broke his neck. He’s OK now, but I almost quit when it happened.”
The fancy moves Daniel mentions are part of the issue. With an eye toward the highly choreographed stunts performed by pro wrestlers in major circuits like the World Wrestling Federation or WWF, amateur backyard wrestlers constantly look for ways to make what they do seem especially daring or dangerous. This often means they may use pieces of wood, nails, and even rusty barb wire in their moves on fellow wrestlers. Teenagers frequently practice falling on their heads and similar movements that can go awry.
Even without the injuries, not all of this is just fun. Amateur backyard wrestling videos abound, some fetching big money to see what appears quite dangerous even if the teens and adults who engage in the stunts continue to stand after the event. Many of those who participate like the idea that something very edgy they do may get the attention of the professional wrestling groups who might one day hire them.
Yet, so far, it’s not all that clear how many amateurs break into the lucrative word of pro wrestling. It also is not known how many children each year suffer permanent if not disabling injuries as a result.
Kay Cleary of Florida, however, knows the latter part all too well. Her stepson defied his parents’ refusal to let him join an amateur backyard wrestling group when the family lived in Northern Virginia.
The wrestlers often practiced moves on a huge trampoline but without practice spotting, or having people stand along the perimeter of the device to help keep someone from falling off, reports Cleary. One afternoon, Kay Cleary got a call at work that her stepson was in the emergency room of the local hospital.
“You should see him. He was the super athlete but he’s weak as a kitten now. Stephen struck his head on a cement block in the yard when he went off the trampoline which put him in a coma for ten days. It’s almost three years later and he’s still trying to learn how to walk again. He won’t ever be the same person. The parents in the home where this wrestling group met never bothered to monitor what the boys were doing and didn’t put a stop to it even when they learned the boys were taking big risks,” Cleary says, her rage palpable.