InterMat Reads: Wrestling Spoken Here

"What have I gotten myself into now?"

That's the opening sentence of Wrestling Spoken Here, a novel about that tells the story of Robbie Renfro, a high school sophomore who is experiencing his first season as a wrestler and grappling with all sorts of challenges on and off the mat. This 312-page book, intended for junior and senior high readers but appropriate for all ages, is available from Lulu Publishing.

The author's illustrious mat background

Author Milt Sherman is uniquely equipped to craft an engaging story about a high school wrestler new to the sport -- as a former wrestler, coach, and instructor.

Milt Sherman wrestled at Yorktown High School in Virginia before moving on to wrestle at East Carolina University
Sherman wrestled at Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia outside Washington, D.C. for legendary coach Chuck Harris, a member of the NFHS Wrestling Rules Committee which governs high school wrestling. (Among Yorktown's more famous alums: CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric, and the late Paul Wellstone, former Minnesota senator and ACC champion wrestler at the University of North Carolina.)

Milt Sherman continued his mat career at East Carolina University. Coached by another legend, John Welborn, Sherman was a four-year starter, compiling a 101-13 record for an 88% winning percentage. Among his college highlights: defeating NCAA champs Mike Frick of Lehigh and Clarion's Gary Barton, and winning the 142-pound title at the 1973 Southern Conference championships (despite receiving a concussion after being elbowed in the temple).

After college, Milt Sherman was a teacher and wrestling coach at D.H. Conley High School in Greenville, North Carolina for nearly 30 years, where his teams tallied 470 wins. He coached a state championship team, and three state runner-up teams. One of his wrestlers, James Johnson, later won three Open Division National Championships in Greco, and placed fifth at the 1994 World Championships.

Coach becomes a writer

While at Conley, Milt Sherman launched his writing career. During the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, he met Nicholas "Micky" Hirschl, who, prior to World War II, was European Heavyweight Wrestling Champion and had won bronze medals in both freestyle and Greco-Roman competition at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics… but was forced to flee Nazi oppression in Europe because he was Jewish.

Milt Sherman
In 1985, Sherman shared Hirschl's inspiring story with readers of Wrestling USA magazine.

"I had never interviewed anyone, I had never written an article," discloses Sherman. "I thought I'd give it a shot."

"A few years later, I wrote an article for Coach magazine," Sherman continues. "The magazine covered all sports, but usually didn't cover wrestling. I thought they should provide articles on wrestling, so I submitted a technique article. It came back all marked up in red, the most red marks I'd ever seen on a page. But they were constructive comments. I made revisions to that draft, resubmitted it, and that first article was published. It was the first of about a dozen technique articles."

In the past two decades, Milt Sherman has published approximately two dozen articles, ranging from instructional features, to historical articles, to humorous pieces such as "Wrestling Is Better Than Basketball," for Coach, Amateur Wrestling News, W.I.N. Magazine, and Wrestling USA.

Taking a shot at writing a novel

"I was a high school teacher and coach for 29 years," says Milt Sherman. "I would walk into high school and public libraries all over, and would look for wrestling books, and usually found nothing. Not even technique books, let alone novels about wrestling."

"I'm a wrestling guy, so I wanted to write a novel that drove people TO the sport, not away from it."

Sherman explains: "Some wrestling novels emphasize negatives, like unhealthy weight-loss techniques, or feature characters who, when confronted with a challenge, quit the sport. That doesn't seem true to the sport and those who participate in it."

"In writing (Wrestling Spoken Here), it was, 'let me take a shot.'"

"Realize that I'm a wrestling coach who's done some writing, not a writer who's wrestled, like John Irving," says Sherman, referring to the author of bestsellers such as The World According to Garp, who won an Oscar for the screenplay adaptation of his novel The Cider-House Rules.

"There were two things I had to overcome in making the transition from writing articles, to writing a novel. First, dialogue. In an article explaining wrestling technique, you don't have individuals talking. It was a challenge to write conversations that were realistic. The second issue was, the size of the job. Writing an article is like writing a chapter, in terms of the length, and the effort it takes."

"I was about halfway through the writing process before I had firmed up the book's outline," according to Sherman. "The writing process became easier as I went along. It was like practice. Just like in wrestling, practice helped, and I think it made the writing better."

Milt Sherman makes another link between wrestling and writing: "Writing is certainly a creative outlet. When I was wrestling, I never thought of it as a creative outlet, but it is. You have to be creative on the mat, think quickly, improvise. An athlete may know exactly what he wants to do, but it doesn't always go as planned. You make it up as you go along."

Meet Robbie and Matt

Wrestling Spoken Here introduces readers to wrestlers and coaches at Arthur L. Canady High School, with the spotlight on Robbie Renfro, a sophomore who's just taken up wrestling at the insistence of his friend Matt Ardmore, the 140-pound starter for the Pirates. Here's how author Milt Sherman describes the two main characters of his novel: "Matt is more experienced, more outgoing. Robbie is shy, very much a regular guy. He's new to the sport, so he gets beat by teammates, in the scrimmage, in matches, but he doesn't give up."

"Being involved in school activities is a positive. It helps Robbie have friends, builds his confidence, gives him a reason to get up in the morning. In fact, kids involved in an extra-curricular activity are more likely to graduate than those who don't."

The book takes the reader through the wrestling season at Canady High -- at least through the conference tournament. We spend time in the practice room, on road trips in the school activity bus, in dual meets and tournaments at home and away. It strives to describe the action in the wrestling room and at actual matches in a clear, compelling way that will be believable for fans and participants in the sport, yet is easily accessible to ANY reader. Here's an excerpt describing one of Robbie's matches:

Starting on top in the third period, Robbie knew he had to turn his opponent to his back to earn a win, and he worked hard to do that. With a minute left and still on top, Robbie was still down 5-3 when they went out-of-bounds. As they returned to the center Coach Moore yelled out, "Step out and drive that head!" Resolved to do that, Robbie tried his 'cross-face cradle' again on the whistle, stepped his left foot out in front for leverage, and drove his opponent's head to his knee. Locking the cradle but unable to rock his opponent to his back, Robbie heard Coach Moore yelling again, "Bump him, Robbie! Do the bump!"

Robbie did just that and rolled his man to his back. As the referee began counting the seconds for a near-fall, Robbie's opponent began pulling and twisting Robbie's grip. Breaking the grip, the Welborn High School. wrestler bridged over to his stomach as the ref called out, "Two, near fall." Robbie's parents glanced up nervously at the scoreboard which now read 5-5. Robbie quickly found out that there was no quit in his opponent either, as he worked up to his knees and worked to control Robbie's hands. Robbie couldn't hold him down, and he successfully stood up, peeled the hands, and escaped. "One, escape," called the ref. Many anxious fans quickly glanced at the scoreboard as it changed to 6-5 visitors."

Not for wrestlers only

"I think any athlete can read the book and follow the action," says Sherman. "It's a story that centers around wrestling, but isn't just about wrestling. Top athletes love to compete. I think this book speaks to that."

Wrestling Spoken Here also addresses the challenges wrestlers go up against -- making weight, dealing with wrestle-offs, how to learn from loss -- with an overall upbeat, positive tone.

"By design, something amusing happens each chapter," according to Milt Sherman. "It's a structural element, leading to the season's conclusion. For young readers, you need something each chapter to reward them, to keep interest."

"I think this is a fun read for boys," continues the author. "I don't think kids today read enough."

Wrestling Spoken Here doesn't shy away from universal issues that go beyond wrestling. As author Milt Sherman says, "I address issues such as bullying, racism, a parent who drinks too much." However, he does it in a way that's never heavy-handed. A spirit of optimism prevails throughout the book that makes it a compelling, quick-paced read that will win over readers of every age and background.

To order a copy of Wrestling Spoken Here using a credit card, go to and type Wrestling Spoken Here into the search box. To order a signed copy send $19.50 or a purchase order ($16.50 + 3.00 shipping) to the author at 128 Harrell Street, Greenville, NC 27858. For questions contact


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