Sure, Zack “Buddah” Soderquist said he had never been beaten in arm-wrestling in a bar.

But against Cliff Hall, a veteran of more than 30 years of arm-wrestling and the Cornhusker State Games director for the sport, he had no chance.

“You can’t just walk in here and pull against somebody who knows what they’re doing, no matter how big and strong you are,” said Sean Schrotberger, who recently won the men’s novice 80K (176 pounds) national title and Saturday won three gold medals at the State Games.

“There is strategy, strength, speed and physics,” the recent Lincoln Southeast graduate said. “You need to understand how to get leverage and how to use your whole body, not just your forearms and your wrist.”

Even with a diminished list of participants this year, the competition was fierce at the Lincoln Christian School lunch room. Some competitors ran back and forth from the powerlifting in the gym back to arm-wrestling. Many of the officials, including Hall and Paula Matusiak, would shed their stripes to compete, then become referees again.

Mary McConnaughey, a longtime competitor and State Games organizer, coaches many of the participants. She's also the loudest supporter.

Like most in the audience, she cheered for both sides when she wasn’t competing. The loudest was during Schrotberger’s gold-medal matches.

Schrotberger had a tough battle Saturday. He had to retry three times before he could put away Jayson Neeley of Bellevue.

The first time, Neeley fouled by lifting his elbow. The second time, Schrotberger lifted his elbow. Finally, on a referee’s restart, Schrotberger drove the back of Neeley’s right hand to the pad. Schrotberger did it again left-handed.

Jamie Colvin, a junior at Omaha Central, won golds in the women’s novice right-hand and left-hand and the women’s open right competitions.

“I try to use my whole body and get momentum from my torso,” said Colvin, a longtime friend of Schrotberger. “I use my strength as a base, but work on my timing and my balance to win. But I get help from everybody around here and I try to listen and learn each time out.”

Colvin, who competes in the high school shot put and discus in the spring, said arm-wrestling caught her eye five years ago.

“I saw it and I was hooked,” she said. “I keep a low profile about it because people who know me are always asking to arm-wrestle. But you don’t just slam somebody’s arm to the table. This is a sport, and I feel great that I can say I’m state champion.”

Actually, most of the contestants know each other, encourage their friends and practice together.

“Arm-wrestling around here is like a small town, where everybody knows everybody and we all care about each other,” Schrotberger said.

He’s counting on friends and other competitors to help him raise funds through gofundme.com to attend the world championships in Poland in early September. Arm-wrestling is very popular in Europe and Russia. Some 40 countries will send competitors to worlds.

“I think it would be a great way to learn more, see what I have to do to get better,” Schrotberger said.

Reach Ken Hambleton at 402-473-7313 or khambleton@journalstar.com.

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Ken grew up in Chicago and is a Doane College grad. His Mr. Sportsknowitall column appears Sundays, and he covers a variety of beats.

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