March 16, 2005 - The way his father tells it, Paul Honan emerged from a vicious headlock in his first wrestling match and, despite being red-faced and bleary-eyed, said "Dad, pain is temporary, pride is forever."
That was in fifth grade. Three years later, it's Chris Honan's son who is doling out the headlocks and the hurt. After an unblemished 22-0 season, the eighth grader at Cross Middle School is heading to Cedar Falls, Iowa, for the USA Wrestling Folkstyle National Championships April 1 through 3.
This year, Honan became the third wrestler at Cross to finish the season undefeated. The difference, said head coach Denny Williams, is that Honan faced much stiffer competition than the others. Of his 22 wins, 19 came via pin.
Wrestling in the 133-pound weight class, Honan won titles at the Arizona State Junior High School Championships, the Flowing Wells City Championship and the Coronado tournament.
At 5 feet 10 inches, Honan has a wingspan that is one of his greatest assets. He uses his arm length to sprawl on opponents while looking for a lot of cradles.
"He absorbed everything we taught him," Williams said of Honan, who, in his words, dominated every match he fought in. "He's the kind of kid every coach dreams of."
With Honan's assistance, Cross finished the year 10-2 in dual meets, good enough for eighth in the state, second in the Coronado tourney and third overall in Tucson.
"Iowa will be telltale sign of how he (Honan) will adjust to high school," said Williams of the upcoming folkstyle nationals. In August, Honan, 14, will attend Canyon Del Oro High School.
Folkstyle is one of three genres of wrestling, along with Greco Roman and Freestyle. Folkstyle wrestling is the form used on the high school and collegiate levels.
To ready himself for Iowa, Honan will wrestle for the next month with mat guru Rob Lindsey, head coach of Marana High School. Lindsey runs an intensive clinic for wrestlers of all ages and levels March 1 through 26, once the junior high school season ends.
Lindsey's monthlong clinic teaches what he describes as the "alphabet" of learning how to wrestle. By the time his wrestlers go from A to Z, they have learned more than 100 moves, each one a defense or reaction to the previous.
The wrestlers start as young as six and go through 18. Workouts are divided into two parts: The first hour and a half is dedicated to the elementary kids, and the second half is reserved for the middle and high school wrestlers. Lindsey has two dozen elementary school kids enrolled in the class for younger wrestlers.
Despite temporary lapses when they scorn each other for knowing too much about the Teletubbies or stop to argue about how many Lil' Rascals there were, Lindsey's elementary school wrestlers are alert, attentive and enthusiastically respond to his drills and games.
As for his older wrestlers, Lindsey will take five from the Marana program to the national meet in Iowa, including Michael Moreno, Jaxiel Velasquez and Joe Ludwig of Marana High School; Zach Schussel of Marana Middle School; and Trevor Bourget of Tortolita Middle School.
Bourget and Honan are familiar with each other. The two eighth graders squared off during the season, with Honan getting the best of his rival.
"It's a different level," said Honan of the intensity level of Lindsey's workouts, comparing the clinic to the middle school competition.
Lindsey's expertise stretches across the country. His career began when he attended Hempfield High School in wrestling-fertile western Pennsylvania.
In Marana, Lindsey has high hopes that his clinic will revitalize Tiger wrestling, which hasn't had a state champion since Dusty Alexander claimed the state's top spot in 1997. The clinic is in its third year in the gym at Marana High School and has seen its enrollment rise from five in the first year to 10 and 20-plus in the years since.
"It's going to be our bread and butter," said Lindsey of the clinic, "Once we get all the parents on board."
The environment Lindsey creates is conducive to Honan's needs.
"I'm very impressed with Rob (Lindsey)," said Chris Honan. "He's very technical."
The elder Honan was introduced to Lindsey in Tempe at a coaching certificate seminar.
"Rob is hopefully going to elevate him (Paul Honan) to nationals," said Chris Honan.
While the younger Honan fine-tunes his game for Iowa, Lindsey says the long term should be the ultimate focus.
"Iowa is just a stepping stone," said the gruff Lindsey, "the next stop on the way to high school."
It may be another rung in the ladder for Honan, but the Iowa tourney will be a destination for Lindsey, who, even at 38, will try his hand on the mat. Lindsey will wrestle in the National Veterans Folkstyle Championships..
To be able to get Honan to Iowa, where he will visit family in Cedar Falls, the family was able to raise money through several fund-raising events, including a silent auction and a raffle at Cross' end-of-season banquet March 10. Their efforts netted Paul and his father more than $500 to cover the costly traveling expenses.
So, while most wrestlers from the Tucson metro area are moving on to the next sport or simply enjoying their time out of their singlets, Honan and Lindsey will be grappling on the mats of Marana High School.