Stephen Shone won a New York State Championship in 1985 at 145 pounds and went on to wrestle at the prestigious West Point Military Academy.
He is now a successful high school coach at Montgomery Bell Academy, in Tennessee.
A few years ago, Stephen developed a dreadful toothache during a wrestling practice, one which he just couldn’t tolerate. His assistant coach forced him to leave practice immediately, and see Dr. Matt Gorham, who was also a stout supporter of youth wrestling in the area.
In the process of getting his tooth fixed, Stephen became good friends with Dr. Gorham. One day, while at Dr. Gorham’s house, Stephen noticed a book which had a picture of a wrestler wearing the Section XI singlet on the front cover sitting on Dr. Gorham’s coffee table. Obviously, this caught his attention.
He asked himself what are the odds he would see a Section XI singlet on the front cover of a book some 2,000 miles from where he grew up?
He asked to borrow the book.
After reading “6 Minutes Wrestling with Life,” Stephen reached out to me by email. We hadn’t spoken in 33 years. He said in his email that he just had to let me know the book truly moved him, and he too could relate to how important wrestling was to his life off the mat.
Fast forward a year or so.
This past July, Stephen came back into town to set up an annual scholarship for his Alma-Mata Bayport-Blue Point. He said he was inspired to give back to the sport of wrestling after reading my book.
When Stephen was in town presenting the idea for the annual scholarship to the school, he met with BBP head coach, Joe Gallagher. As the meeting ended, he asked Joe if he knew how to get in contact with me. Stunned, Joe responded, “that is just too funny – I am on my way to his house right now, my son is getting a private lesson at 2:00.”
Both Joe and Stephen came to my house for Joe’s son’s private lesson. I could tell Stephen wanted to talk in greater depth, so we made a plan to meet the next day.
Which, we did.
There are moments and times in your life when you just know something special is happening while it is happening.
Meeting with Stephen that day, was one of those times for me.
We talked endlessly for hours. We shared story after story. We reminisced from early morning to early afternoon and could have gone on much longer.
We talked about the relationships we formed because of this great sport, and the great coaches who inspired us. We talked about the big wins we each had in depth to each other. We both shared information with each other that we hadn’t shared with anyone else ever in our lives. Private stuff, about what drives us, the mistakes we made, and how important the sport of wrestling has been to each of us throughout our lives. Especially off the mat. Especially when we stopped competing. We talked about the losses we each recently had in our lives, and how hard it was to come back from them – but we did. Because we are wrestlers. The common thread of all of our stories was how the sport of wrestling made us into better people.
Thirty-three years later, what we understood now, that we didn’t quite comprehend then was it was the losses and not the wins that best prepared us for life. They taught us how to handle and come back from adversity.
How to fight, and how to win. For us, but most importantly for our families.
One vivid memory Stephen shared with me, that has stuck with him to this day was what his father said to him after coming off the mat in defeat against an elite opponent, he said, “When are you going to beat the guy you’re not supposed to beat?”
If there is something that sums up what the sport of wrestling is all about it is the question,“When are you going to beat the guy you’re not supposed to beat?”
It is what wrestling is all about.
It is one of the greatest lessons that will carry over into life.
When broken down the question,“When are you going to beat the guy you’re not supposed to beat?” infers you have had a loss.
How you respond to that loss is the most important decision of your life.
The loss is an opportunity to become better.
To train harder.
To isolate what is truly important to you.
The loss makes you focus deeper, longer and gives you an appetite and a craving for what you want.
It makes you become a hunter.
To beat the guy you’re not supposed to beat requires training and execution and plowing through plateaus.
It requires ambition, desire and managing your emotions when you don’t succeed.
It requires doing more than you ever thought you could do, and even more when you think you are done.
It requires a focused mental mind in mission mode.
It requires sacrifice, hard work and overcoming adversity.
I remember the first time each of my sons beat someone who was better than they were.
I can describe each match in great detail.
I can tell you every nuance of the match and I can describe the feeling afterward.
I have been around wrestling for most of my life, and I can truly attest to the fact that the greatest feeling in wrestling isn’t winning a championship, it is beating a wrestler you are not supposed to beat.
It shows progress.
You see a payoff for your hard work. You feel a sense of accomplishment.
And when you beat a wrestler you are not supposed to beat, a wrestler who is better than you, a funny thing happens, you want to accomplish more, set bigger goals, and to train harder because you experienced that ecstasy that comes with beating someone who is better than you.
My father used to say, “There is always a better man.”
I have revised that saying to be, “There is always a better man. Train to beat him.”
When you retire from the sport of wrestling and become a “normal person” again, you will indeed experience loss in your life. Life will undoubtedly throw you to your back. And how you respond to that loss will make all the difference in the world to the quality of your remaining life, and your family’s lives’.
Winning every match will never teach you how to respond to a loss.
Only reaching deep down after a loss, to train to beat someone who you’re not supposed to beat, a wrestler who is better than you will do that.
Believe me, thirty-three years after hanging up my shoes figuring out how to beat someone who is better than me, someone who I’m not supposed to beat has been one of the greatest lessons that the greatest sport on earth has taught me.
And if you don’t believe me, believe the state champ, as I can attest to the fact that the one match Stephen Shone spoke most about, wasn’t his state championship match, it was the match where for the first time in his life he finally beat someone who he wasn’t supposed to beat, a wrestler who was better than him.
Recently, Stephen held a clinic for youth wrestlers at Bayport-Blue Point High School to benefit the annual scholarship he started. What do you think was the one message he wanted to share with and pass along to the new generation of wrestlers attending the clinic?
You guessed it, “When are you going to beat the guy you’re not supposed to beat?”
“When Are You Going to Beat
The Guy You’re Not Supposed to Beat?”
And 50 other inspirational wrestling stories
Can be found in:
Capturing the People and Culture of the Greatest Sport on Earth.
All of JohnA Passaro’s published works are available at: