HERMISTON — The New Zealand wrestlers have hopscotched their way across the United States during the last month with multiple stops in Indiana and Oregon. In that time, the cultural exchange team has picked up enough matches and practice to fill several seasons back on the island.
That’s well and fine — considering their tour is based around freestyle wrestling — but the part of that adventure that stands out most for Jordan Mellars Rose is the food. Not just any food, but the meals served during his stay at the home of Hermiston’s four-time state champion Joey Delgado.
"That Mexican food; it’s pretty cool,” said Rose, breaking down the dishes he ate with his host family. “Eating their food is a little different. You don’t get much Mexican food back home.”
For a few of the Hermiston crew, this past weekend was an opportunity to enjoy cultural exchange wrestling from the opposite perspective. Several Dawgs traveled to Russia last summer on a similar venture.
With his own experiences in mind from that trip, Delgado said he wanted to put the New Zealanders at ease during their stay in Hermiston.
“I remember how nervous I was to go into people’s houses and stuff so first I just tried to make them feel comfortable because they’ve been away from home for so long already,” Delgado said, adding that the lack of language barriers quickly eased the process.
Delgado and others took the foreigners around town, helped them pick out souvenirs while bonding with their guests. Many on the New Zealand team, like Sean Pyke, grew up in a similarly rural area in the southern part of their country. Pyke said the open fields around Hermiston reminded him of home much more than the rainy, forested land near Portland where the team made stops last week.
Pyke said touring the different high school and college campuses that have housed their competitions gave him some perspective not just on how his American counterparts wrestle, but how they learn and socialize. When the conversations between boys eventually turned to wrestling, Pyke was fascinated to see the differences in how the cultures approach the sport.
“It’s been good to get experience facing tough international competitors,” said Pyke, 17. “It’s been great training with guys from different countries and seeing what’s the same and what’s different.”
Pendleton’s Trevor Hancock said that part was something that drew him to this competition as well. By the time he finished his senior season over the winter, he’d met just about every wrestler that the state of Oregon had to offer around his weight class.
But these new challengers offered something different: simply a change.
“Around here anyways, we work out with the same guys all the time and everybody that we wrestled with on the team we’ve practiced with before,” Hancock said. “It’s the same thing with the state. You wrestle here long enough and you wrestle everybody.”
On the mats Sunday, the Americans won 21 of the 26 matches — with three New Zealand victories coming from one lightweight, Brahm Richards. But Neither side’s mood hung on the outcomes in the circle.
The alluring interest for many of the Hermiston boys was far more simple. A discussion of favorite candies broke out among the new international friends, a conversation only briefly interrupted by occasional glances at the action nearby.