For 20 years, Gar-Field Coach Bob Horning has been teaching wrestling moves to high school students such as Elijah Harshbarger. But earlier this season, the tables were turned. The teacher became the student, and the lesson couldn't have been more painful.
Horning was sparring playfully with Harshbarger--a senior who is in his first year of competition for the Indians after competing in a sport called submission wrestling the past two years. With the coach seemingly in control of the friendly match, Harshbarger quickly unveiled a move from his past.
"We were just messing around, then all of a sudden his feet were on my head, and he is pulling on my arm," Horning said. "I said, 'What the hell are you doing? You're going to kill me.' I don't think my hand has ever been that far from my face. He said this is how we do it in 'the fighting.' "
Submission wrestling--"the fighting"--works just the way it sounds: It's a form of wrestling in which competitors win by either pin or a submission hold, such as a choke hold or an arm-lock. Harshbarger--who is trained in jujitsu--also competes in no-holds-barred fighting, in which competitors are allowed to punch and strike opponents, in short, to use just about any move that does not involve a weapon.
Even without the use of a submission move like the one he used on Horning, Harshbarger has put together a successful season for Gar-Field. The 160-pound wrestler enters today's Woodbridge quad (1 p.m. start) with a 21-10 record, with 16 of his victories coming by pin.
After a slow start--Harshbarger had not wrestled competitively since his freshman year at Paul VI--he has developed not only into one of the Indians' top wrestlers, but a team leader as well. Harshbarger was named co-captain by his teammates shortly after the holiday break.
"As a leader and a wrestler he has progressed real well," Horning said. "He was real raw at the beginning of the year, but he is a good wrestler now. He learns real quick. He has picked up a couple of moves that he does real well."
Harshbarger's goals have kept pace with his success.
"I'm hoping to go all the way here because I'm training with a great team," Harshbarger said. "I'm training with a great bunch of guys. I'm hoping to win districts and go even farther. I'm just hoping to ride along with them all the way to states."
Harshbarger began jujitsu training in middle school and has competed at both submission wrestling and no-holds-barred fighting with Lloyd Irvin's Martial Arts Academy for about two seasons. As has been the case in high school wrestling, Harshbarger found success early in the sport.
Harshbarger dominated his submission wrestling peers at local tournaments and quickly was given permission to compete against adults. He has since won four submission wrestling tournaments.
In his first no-holds-barred fight roughly a year ago, Harshbarger defeated his adult opponent with a submission hold less than two minutes into the fight.
"He has the potential to become a phenom," said Irvin, who has been training Harshbarger the past two years. "I'm not at all surprised [by his success in high school wrestling]. I knew any time he puts his mind to do something he has the utmost capability to do well."
Harshbarger has been a pleasant surprise in a challenging season for Gar-Field. The Indians have managed a 19-9 record despite the loss of a number of key wrestlers to injury and disciplinary action. Seven current starters began the season on Gar-Field's junior varsity team.
Senior Robert Harding, who finished second last season in the Cardinal District at 215 pounds, has been out with an injury for the past month. Junior Matt Borges (19-9) missed a week after receiving nine stitches for a cut suffered in practice.
In addition to Harshbarger, wrestlers who have developed into competitive starters for Gar-Field this season include junior 130-pounder Octavius Jones (24-13) and sophomore 130-pounder George Hilios (16-6).
"I think we're having a good year considering," Horning said. "The kids we have in the [wrestling] room are quality kids, and I've been having a lot of fun with them."
The transition to high school wrestling has not been too difficult, Harshbarger said, with one exception: He often catches himself wanting to use a submission hold in a match.
"Especially when I'm losing," Harshbarger said. "When [an opponent] gets you in a good double-axle [hold], you sometimes think back about maybe doing some of the other styles. But you hold back."