The spectacle lighting up Old Town Square in Fairfax City on Thursday night was hard to ignore. The lights, the noise, the energy, the frenzied crowd packed around a wrestling mat, the jock jams pumping from speakers on loop — it was enough to make pedestrians at the intersection of Main Street and University Drive wonder, ‘What the heck’s going on here?’
One such passerby tapped Gregg Monday, one of the event’s organizers, and asked what was happening. He wasn’t so much interested in wrestling as he was the event drawing a few hundred people into the square’s tight confines.
When the mayhem concluded, that same passerby sought out Monday again, this time with more people in tow.
“He walked out with another gentleman and several kids,” Monday said, “and he goes, ‘My son’s really interested in wrestling. What do I do?’”
Thursday’s second annual “See You on the Square” featured a rare outdoor dual meet between Robinson and Fairfax. Vying for the Chain Bridge Cup, the Rams and Rebels followed a series of youth matches with a rousing scrimmage on the makeshift stage, but the event’s real purpose transcended outcomes on the scoreboard.
Sales and merchandise proceeds went to the Eric Monday Memorial Wrestling Foundation, an organization aimed at raising awareness and removing the stigma related to mental health issues. According to Gregg Monday, vice president of the foundation and uncle to its namesake, the foundation fosters opportunities for young wrestlers while encouraging them to be open about depression, anxiety and other mental health issues prevalent at the high school level.
The foundation was started by the family of Eric Monday, a standout wrestler at Madison High and Washington & Jefferson College who took his own life at age 21.
On Thursday, wrestlers and spectators wore shirts emblazoned with the foundation’s motto: #takedownthestigma. Mental health remains a particularly poignant issue in an area afflicted by an alarming number of student suicides in recent years.
“I think it really has a humongous impact on kids at school,” said Robinson senior Tyler Hazard, a defending state finalist wrestling in the 145-pound weight class. “Around here it is, just because of what has been going on recently, but in a lot of other places I don’t think it’s really recognized. This is really a big event to fight the stigma.”
Organizers brought in bleachers this year to accommodate increased turnout. Fans and teammates squeezed along the mat’s fringes, upping the intensity of a setting that can feel mundane during the winter season’s weekly grind.
“We make it a show. It’s something people have fun watching,” said Fairfax Coach Tanner Sewell, in his second year at the helm. “It’s not like sitting in a high school gym all day long at a wrestling tournament.”
Robinson, a perennial power at the state level, won four of the evening’s five dual matches against an upstart Fairfax squad returning just three starters this year. Still, the Rebels showcased the tenacity and fearlessness that Sewell hopes to ingrain as practice for the 2016-17 season ramps up next week.
“We were happy to be part of something bigger than ourselves,” said Asliddin Abdukhalikov, one of just two Fairfax seniors returning to the lineup. “We’re just happy to get the name out there and basically just to take down the stigma.”