June 17, 2019
The idea for Home Mat Advantage Wrestling Podcast was originally created in jest. We had been discussing wrestling for a while and the idea for a podcast was just thrown around. A couple of weeks later Sam sent me a link to a podcast creating app. Next thing we knew, we were neck deep into the show.
Sam Herring and I met over Twitter. I had noticed that he would tweet all throughout the school day. I messaged him, introduced myself, and immediately inquired if he was a homeschooler. He confirmed this, and he and I began talking wrestling. As I learned about Sam, I became more and more surprised by him. As the second youngest of seven children, Sam is 12 years old. Although he is so young, he is incredibly mature in both his academics and how he holds himself in conversation. We quickly became good friends, messaging each other nearly every day about wrestling.
The show itself was actually quite easy to put together. After we decided on the name, each of us acquired a microphone, I threw together a ramshackle logo, Sam created an official Twitter and an email address, and we began to do our first recording via Skype. Simply put, it went horribly. Sam and I talked over each other, and then we talked too little. Our first episode was about 6 minutes long, and it was awful. But we rebounded, and came back the next week for a new episode. Yet that episode was equally poor, as was the episode after, and the one after that! Not until our eleventh episode did we start to fall into a rhythm. Even now we still struggle, but we continue to improve every week. I wonder what we’ll look like at episode 100!
One hiccup that we encountered the first day was the location. Sam lives in Memphis, Tennessee, about a 14 hour drive from me, and an hour behind in the timezone. So we called each other on Skype and recorded it from there. Since it was an audio podcast, we decide not to do a video call, just so the recorded episode would be easy to upload, and we wouldn’t have to mess with converting a massive video file, about 4 gigabytes, into a tiny audio file, about 80 megabytes. The only problem with this is that we couldn’t see each other when we spoke, often resulting in awkward little exchanges and us bumbling over each other. We learned how to talk together with time, but the first several episodes are painful for me to listen to.
After we had recorded and produced several episodes we finally had some national exposure. FloWrestling, the largest and most influential of all the wrestling media outlets, talked about us on their podcast. Instantly our listenership grew to 100, 200, 400, 700 listeners on a single episode! We were incredibly grateful for the “big guys” to help out the “little guys” even though our product was still in the “awkward” stage. Sam and I had been listening to FloWrestling for over a year, and they had become something like idols in our heads. One day, after we had recorded and posted an episode, we received a message via Twitter from an employee of FloWrestling. This man, who goes by the nickname Nomad, told us how much he loved the show, how what we’re doing is helping grow the sport of wrestling, and how we can be different than FloWrestling. Because what makes Home Mat Advantage different than all the other podcasts is that no matter how knowledgeable or mature Sam and I might seem, we’re still kids. We still think like kids, we act like kids, and we definitely look like kids. This is our niche. Adults can listen to adults talk for an hour. They can probably relate to the adult in some way. But when they listen to Home Mat Advantage, they listen not to hear about the wrestling, but to hear about how kids think of wrestling. What is it like growing up in a wrestling world? Adults can no longer remember, and so Home Mat Advantage is here to give a fresh outlook on wrestling–one from a child’s inexperienced view.
This insight in particular was attractive to a man named Tony Rotundo. Tony is a wrestling and MMA photographer; he travels all over the world taking action shots of great wrestling. He reached out to us on Twitter, introduced himself and his business, and asked for our emails. Sam and I both wondered about what he could want, but that night an email sent to us and our parents explained it all. His business, WrestlersAreWarriors.com, wanted to support Home Mat Advantage Wrestling Podcast. Whether it was improving our audio quality with better microphones, helping us get in contact with esteemed wrestlers for interviews, or financial backing for wrestling-related travel, Tony wanted to help out. We had our first sponsorship deal!
Sam and I quickly compiled a list of the things that we would like to do with the money. It varied from purchasing new microphones to traveling to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic Games! But one of the things very high on our list was to get funds to travel, not to Japan, but to New Brunswick, New Jersey. On June 8th, 2019 Rutgers University would host a huge event for USA Wrestling called Final X. This national wrestling event is similar to a dual meet, but the winner of the best two-out-of-three matches qualifies for Team USA’s World team. Needless to say, this would be a big deal.
We decided that this would be the event to go to, and presented the idea to Tony. He took it one step further, and suggested we try and get press passes. This would not only get us free admission but also would give us media privileges. We could go on the competition floor, conduct interviews with athletes, and introduce ourselves to high ranking officials and media personalities, hopefully providing awareness of our tiny show. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. Tony travels to events all over the world and knows the man in charge of USA Wrestling, Mr. Gary Abbott. Tony introduced our show to him and asked him to consider giving us press passes to Final X. Gary was pleasantly surprised by our show and gave the thumbs up. We were off to Final X.
Tony was even more helpful. He talked to us for hours, explaining the venue of Rutgers and how the interviews would work at Final X. He funded our custom made t-shirts to hand out to our fans! He’s given us countless photos, and currently he’s creating a website for us to post articles. All of these advertising avenues have been funded by Tony.. He bought my dad a ticket, paid for our gas, and then gave us Wrestlers are Warrior shirts to wear. Tony Rotundo is an amazing person, and I can’t wait to continue this sponsorship with him.
All throughout this time, (about a month and a half), I was swamped with work. My lawn care business, school, and wrestling were still in full swing and I was learning quickly that I had no time to dawdle. As fun as the podcast was and as full as my head was with dreams, I had jobs to do and responsibilities to satisfy. Responsibility was a hard, cold, slap in the face. No longer did I have time to sit and play video games, or annoy my siblings listlessly. I had not yet achieved my goals on the wrestling mat either, and with states rapidly approaching I couldn’t afford to waste my mental effort on frivolous things. I made an executive decision: no more video games until after States. As hard as that decision was, I now realize how important that choice was for me! Even after states and to this day I no longer think about playing video games, I have better things to do. If Home Mat Advantage has taught me anything, it would be time management and what happens if you neglect responsibilities.
As June 8th drew closer, our excitement for the Final X event grew greater. The Herring family purchased tickets and booked hotel rooms. Sam would text me constantly about whether I had done the same. Unfortunately, there was some conflicting schedules at the Swisher home. June 8th was the date of our annual piano recital. We had been practicing our pieces for months, and my father, the only one who could drive me to New Jersey, would not miss it for the world. Final X began at 12:00 in the afternoon, but the piano recital started at 1:00. It seemed like Jude Swisher would not be able to go to the event of his dreams. Luckily, Final X was split into two different sessions. The first, starting at noon, would consist of women’s freestyle and men’s Greco-Roman matches. Although this was interesting, women’s freestyle and men’s Greco-Roman is not nearly as popular as men’s freestyle wrestling, and so Sam and I would not be covering it on our podcast. Side note: I learned early on that if one didn’t know about a subject that he would be discussing on a radio show, it wasn’t good radio. You need to have a substantial amount of knowledge about the given topic so it sounds like you know what you’re talking about, so Sam and I really stayed away from women’s freestyle and men’s Greco-Roman wrestling. We just didn’t know what we were talking about.
The second session of wrestling would be considered the main event, starting at 6:00 PM. These matches would decide the Men’s Freestyle team, and every wrestling fan in the country would be watching. My dad and I sat down and made a plan. Tony had told us that the earlier we could get there the better, so the stress of wanting to make a good impression weighed heavily on my mind. The recital at best would be an hour long, and since I would play at the end, we couldn’t leave early. Our plan was this: Sam goes up Friday the 7th, stays for the pre-event press conference, and checks into his hotel. He would go to the weigh-ins that morning, and to the first session at noon. After the piano recital, my father and I would drive as fast as we could to Rutgers, about a four-hour trip. Hopefully we would make it in time, and hopefully it would turn out alright.
The event was 100% the coolest thing I’ve ever done. Needless to say we arrived with plenty of time! Sam and I finally met in person, and he’s even better than on Skype. He handed me my official Home Mat Advantage t-shirt, produced by Compound Clothing Retail (a wrestling clothes manufacturer), a press pass, and a FloWrestling hat. I was ready to go into Final X. Sam showed me the press box, the media room, and led me down to the floor. He introduced me to Pat Downey, a world team qualifier, and I spoke with a lot of the FloWrestling people. Everybody was so incredibly relaxed with two kids running around with microphones and press passes. Before I knew it, the night was over, and it was time to go home. My first ever press event was done, and it had been surreal.
Now, we move forward. Our sights are set high, and we move with one vision. Our goal at Home Mat Advantage is to provide high-level wrestling discussion with the purpose of inspiring more conversation. Our podcast is still small, but our listeners are the best we could ask for. Gary Abbott, the FloWrestling crew, and Tony Rotundo all took a chance on us, and we did our best to deliver. Sam and I have both learned so much about a wide range of topics, such as recording and editing, how a media outlet should act, how to coordinate and conduct interviews, and plenty more. We’ve had ups and downs, but are always looking to improve and find a better way. Sam and I haven’t known each other long, and we’re only on our thirteenth episode of Home Mat Advantage, but we are striving to maintain and grow our show and our relationship. The creation, execution, and development of Home Mat Advantage Wrestling Podcast has profoundly changed my life by inciting discipline, focus, and vision.
All Photos: Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors.com