Tom Malich thought he had heard every story when it came to wrestlers not making weight. But when one of his Kennedy High wrestlers weighed in six pounds over the limit the morning of his match, the 20-year veteran coach could only laugh at the explanation.
"We always want to be on our weight the night before," Malich said. "And this kid was right on it. But the next morning. . . . six pounds over.
"Now I know why he's over [because he gorged himself the night before], but when I asked him what happened, he says, 'Coach, all I had was an orange and some water.'
"I laughed and asked him if he ate a six-pound orange," Malich said. "We now tell our wrestlers to stay away from six-pound oranges before a match."
Welcome to the world of prep wrestling, where an athlete's body is tested on the mat and at the dinner table.
"This sport is not like any sport in the Southern Section," said Malich, who's also president of the Orange County Wrestling Coaches Assn. "It can be brutal. It can be humbling. It can be inspiring. But the bottom line is that it's a great challenge."
For Mike Bigrigg, a 189-pound wrestler at defending state champion Calvary Chapel, the individuality of the sport is the lure as well as the challenge.
"It's the competitiveness and the one-on-one aspect of the sport I love," said Bigrigg, 17, who finished third at the Southern Section Division I finals last year. "I played football for two years, but I do nothing but wrestling now.
"In football, you have to rely on too many people. Not in wrestling. It's just me and nobody else. Wrestling has taught me how to find a way to win, and I know it will help me later no matter what I'm doing."
Bill Clark, assistant commissioner of the Southern Section, has overseen wrestling for 19 years. Of all the sports the section offers, Clark has a special affinity for wrestling.
"There's no sport like it," Clark said. "These athletes are baring their souls out there on the mat. "It's one of the greatest of the individual sports. It's an aggressive sport that tests self-reliance."
Malich has seen this test of self-reliance many times during his coaching career. Last year, his top wrestler, Richard Feistman, sustained a two-inch gash over his left eye during a match at the section Division II finals.
"There was blood everywhere. The funny thing is that when Richard got the cut, he thought it was the other guy who was bleeding. So when they would tie-up, he would rub his forehead into the other guy's face trying to get the blood off," Malich said.
"But when the ref called an injury timeout, I told Richard that he was the one bleeding, and that if he didn't win this match fast, he could lose because he was bleeding way too much. So we piled the Vaseline on the wound and he went back out there and pinned the guy.
Feistman needed nine stitches to close the cut.
"That's wrestling, and things like that happen all the time," Malich said.
Irvine Coach John Phillips said he tries to pass along to his wrestlers the lessons he learned from the sport in his youth.
"I took a lot of pride working out hard in practice. It's almost a farmer's attitude," said Phillips, whose team has been Sea View League champion four consecutive years. "You can't be lazy. And if you work hard and are up for the challenge of the sport and you stick with it, it will teach you great lessons that you'll carry for life."
It's common for Phillips to turn up the thermostat in the Vaqueros' wrestling room. At the end of a two-hour practice session, moisture beads up on the windows.
"I only turn up the heat after the freshmen leave," said Phillips, laughing. "It's difficult to explain why someone would put themselves through all of this. For me. I wrestled four years in high school and four in college. And when I look back at those years and think about all the hard work and little recognition I got, I think the only reason I put myself through it all was because of the values I got from wrestling."
Anaheim Coach Joe Mark said from the conditioning programs to the practice sessions to the meets themselves, wrestling stands alone among high school sports.
"In most sports, like baseball or football, there's a lot of standing around during practice. Not so in wrestling," Mark said. "Our practice sessions are intense. We work on the technical aspects of wrestling, but my kids prefer to go one-on-one with each other.
"I remember when the Droughns brothers [Reuben and Robert] would wrestle during practice. We'd have wars in this [wrestling] room. It seems it would always turn into a fight between the two brothers and we would have to pull them apart. It was actually a very nasty takedown group I had.
"I coached both football and wrestling. Football is a tough sport and it's certainly a lot more glamorous than wrestling. But wrestling is different. It's much nastier."
The sport can be nasty at times, but also quite beneficial.