Courtney Ernst went shopping at the mall Tuesday night and a wrestling match broke out.
It sounds like a Rodney Dangerfield joke, but it really happened.
Fan interest and participation in wrestling has declined over the years, so Putnam City North and Edmond Memorial decided to create some interest by wrestling in Quail Springs Mall Tuesday night in the family area in front of Macy's.
“The sport is not visible,” Putnam North wrestling coach Mitch Brinlee said. “Football and basketball get all the highlights on TV.”
Ernst, of Weatherford, was just one of many mall shoppers Tuesday night who were astonished to stumble across a wrestling dual.
“It's not something I expected to see when I walked over here,” Ernst said. “I didn't know what everybody was looking at. I thought it was a band or something. It's different.”
The dual at the mall was the idea of Kirk Mammen, assistant coach at Edmond Memorial, whose father was a high school wrestling coach in Illinois and used malls as a venue for wrestling duals.
Tara Baker, mother of Edmond Memorial wrestler Blake Morton, planned to do some shopping while at the dual.
“It's a win-win situation,” Baker said of high school wrestling at the mall. “I think it is actually pretty cool. It is a great way to attract attention to the sport and what our boys can do. I wouldn't consider it gimmicky, but I am in sales and marketing, so I gimmick for a living.”
The home dual for Edmond Memorial was originally scheduled earlier this season, but Santa Claus had already reserved the spot on that date, so the dual was moved to Tuesday night.
Mats and a scoreboard were brought from Edmond Memorial, and the wrestlers weighed in at the mall. A few chairs were spread around the mat for spectators, but most fans stood while some brought their own lawn chairs.
Spectators also lined up along the guardrail on the upper level of the mall and watched the wrestling from above, including Mike Brandt of Edmond, who heard the whistles and walked over to check out the commotion.
“I think it is awesome in a setting like this,” said Brandt, who stayed to watch the wrestling while his wife and daughter were getting their nails done. “Nothing against (wrestling), but if I didn't have a son or daughter in it, I probably wouldn't go watch it.”
Jayde Harjo, manager for Journeys Kidz, practically had a front-row seat from the store to watch wrestling for the first time.
“It's pretty cool,” she said. “We are kind of slow right now anyway. It brought a few people by.”
The same was true for Carolina Carbajal and Raegan Scoggins, makeup artists at Macy's.
“It was intense and loud,” Carbajal said. “It kept us entertained.”
The dual proved to be exciting as the outcome wasn't decided until the final bout. Putnam North won 38-32 and everyone from fans to coaches to wrestlers seemed pleased with the experience.
“It was crazy,” Putnam North wrestler Austin Carter said of the atmosphere. “I couldn't have asked for anything better. The crowd was more hyped. There were probably people here who didn't know anything about wrestling, but yet they were still cheering. I thought it was great.”
Edmond Memorial wrestler Jonah Moore agreed.
“I would do this again in a heartbeat,” Moore said. “It felt like we attracted a much bigger crowd. Whether we did or not, I don't know. But the way this mall was set up, it was much noisier. This was a lot of fun.”
Brinlee was skeptical at first when asked by Edmond Memorial coach Darren Huff to agree to wrestle at the mall. He expressed more misgivings immediately before Tuesday night's dual when he had to track down some of his wrestlers at the food court.
“It is more of a distraction than coaches are used to having to worry about,” Brinlee said. “You are used to worrying about your lineup and having to make weight. Now you are worried about a guy going off on an escalator to the food court.”
But after the dual ended, Brinlee said the Panthers would wrestle in the mall again, given the opportunity.
“All the kids were in it, the parents and the people upstairs,” he said. “It ended up being a great match and a lot of fun.”
Next time, Brinlee just needs to make sure to keep his wrestlers away from the food court.
“We had one before weigh in (at the food court) and two after weigh in,” he said. “So we are probably going to go home and do a little run as a reminder.”
Next year, the coaches hope to schedule a wrestling dual in the mall on a weekend to attract even more spectators.