It was Christmas break, and the three eldest Simaz boys were home. For them it was an opportunity to see their parents and their younger brother Kyle.
For Kyle it meant an opportunity for more … beatings, and he was on the receiving end.
“Oh, geez, I can’t even count how many beatings I got just this Christmas break,” he said, shaking his head. “In the wrestling room, just in the room, I’m sure there was probably 10 out of 12 days.”
The Simaz family is one of the first families of high school wrestling in Michigan.
Eric, 27, won Division 2’s 171-pound championship in 2005 before wrestling at Central Michigan. Cam, 25, won three state titles and last year won the NCAA Division 1 national championship at Cornell as a senior. Tyler, 19, won two high school titles and is now a grayshirt freshman at Cornell.
Kyle made it unanimous last year when he won the 140-pound title in Division 2 as a junior. He will wrestle at 145 pounds in this season’s Division 3 state tournament (Allegan dropped to Division 3 this year) and is the lightest of the four — not that it matters to his brothers.
“Size has no effect on how easy they take it on you,” Kyle said. “I wrestled Eric 10 times this year, and he uses his weight advantage on me all the time.”
There are advantages to having three older brothers with state championship medals. You can learn from the best.
But often it can be a painful experience, as Kyle learned the hard way last summer when he stayed with Cam at Cornell.
“My dad mentioned that I was poor on the bottom, I wasn’t very good at getting out of the bottom,” he said. “Cam throttled me for an hour straight — just did not let me breathe, just choked me to death — until I finally got out. As soon as I got out, it was over.”
Cam had his younger brother in a hold for 60 minutes?
“Man, that just sounds like good training to me,” said Cam, a four-time collegiate All-America who is wrestling freestyle internationally.
Is it torture or tough love?
“Maybe a little bit of both,” Cam said, laughing.
Wrestling is the sport of choice in the Simaz household, but it is far from the only sport. All four boys also played football and baseball at Allegan.
It isn’t an accident that the boys were three-sport athletes.
“It’s an absolute choice,” said their father, Joe. “I’m a big believer in that kids are only young one time. If you funnel them into just wrestling, they’re going to wish they played baseball when they’re older. When you get older and high school athletics are in the rearview mirror for them, you don’t want them to have any regrets.
“I thought trying to focus on just one thing, you’d end up having a real one-dimensional son.”
Instead, Joe and his wife, Annette, wound up with four well-rounded youngsters who also were exceptional students.
Kyle is trying to choose between Cornell and Northwestern. He believes playing football and baseball will aid his wrestling career in college, which is difficult for some of his wrestling opponents to understand.
“The more elite wrestlers do just one sport,” he said. “I tell them it’s fun. I’ve got four years to dedicate my life to one sport. I’m going to make a bigger jump than all those guys will. They’ve already spent all that time working on one sport, and I do three sports.”
Participating in more than wrestling allowed Kyle to have a total high school experience.
“I’m enjoying high school way more than they are,” Kyle said. “I feel like theirs is all work. All my other sports are so incredibly easy compared to wrestling. In football you get a break after every play. You get water. You can eat and drink as much as you want. Practice is fun.
“Baseball is my favorite sport. I get to drink 64-ounce Powerades in the dugout. In between doubleheaders you get food. Baseball is only boring to watch. It’s not boring to play.”
And there was absolutely nothing boring growing up in the Simaz household. Each day was an adventure as the boys found ways to compete with and against each other.
“The games we play in our house, I don’t think you’d see in any other household in the nation,” Kyle said. “Anything that can fly — any kind of ball — is being thrown. When the boys come home from Christmas, we have footballs flying in the air. We’re running routes around the tables and chairs.”
And it’s just a matter of time before a wrestling match breaks out and something gets broken. Lamps, chairs, pictures, drinking glasses — you name it, it has been broken in the Simaz home.
“I love wood,” Annette said. “Everything that’s glass, I leave it at the store. I admire it there. It doesn’t cost me anything that way.”
Joe wrestled in high school and at Grand Valley State. He introduced Eric to wrestling at a young age and the others followed.
As son No. 4, Kyle followed along, but he isn’t buying the explanation his father gave him on how he began wrestling.
“He brought me to practice when I was 3 or 4 years old,” Kyle said. “He didn’t make me wrestle, but he said it was absorbed through my skin that I would want to wrestle. I’m sure that’s not 100% how it works.”
As he progressed through wrestling, Kyle picked up pointers from his older brothers, who were more than willing to pass on their knowledge.
“Anytime we came across a technique, whether it be Eric, our oldest brother, or me or Taylor, we mentioned it or we’d drill a little bit and he picked it up,” Cam said. “Kyle’s been the beneficiary of some of that, but also in our wrestling family a lot of it is tough love, and hopefully he benefits from that as well.”
Kyle was a sponge when it came to learning from his brothers, and he can point out how each helped mold him into the wrestler he is today.
“I like to think I have the best characters of those guys in me,” he said. “From Eric I’ve got the seriousness and the mat skills. From Cam I’ve got the laid-back personality where I don’t get too serious, and Taylor, I don’t have his organizational skills — he’s OCD, I swear — I’ll take his work ethic and mix it all together in a melting pot. I’m like New York.”
He is the state’s top-ranked 145-pound wrestler, regardless of division, with a 50-1 record this season and a 230-7 career mark.
He is favored to win his second state title next month, but his approach to the state meet is considerably different than it was a year ago when he was trying to win his first title after finishing second the previous two years.
But there is still the pressure of being a Simaz wrestler.
“There’s a huge pressure there,” Kyle said. “I felt that pressure a lot more last year and the year before that than I do now. I won, and it’s kind of like high school doesn’t matter anymore. I’m my own kid, and if I win, that’s great. Of course, I want to win.”
That is why he endures everything he does whenever his older brothers converge on Allegan.
And his brothers are happy to oblige.
“It’s sounds rough and tumble, but that’s the best opportunity he has to get his hands on somebody that’s better than him,” Cam said. “It’s kind of sad he only gets to see us at those times and we only get to enjoy each other’s company at those times.
“He also only gets to benefit from us during those times, too, so it’s kind of a tough balance between: ‘Hey, I really want to hang out with you and have a good time, and I also I want to beat the snot out of you and get you really good.’ It’s kind of a unique relationship.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.