Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 21, 1998

Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / March 21, 1998

LAPLACE – Walk into almost any barroom and you can usually find two men armwrestling. But although it is a rather popular activity, not much isknown about the armwrestling leading many to have a wrong impression about the sport.

One mistaken conception about armwrestling is that it is a sport for grunts. But armwrestling is as much a test of wills and strategy as muchas it is strength. One wrestler may be outweighed by 100 pounds byanother but still win if he or she knows the right techniques.

Two of the best armwrestlers reside right here in St. John Parish. JamieLaBranche and Alby Oberschmidt have both been in the sport for over a decade and each has a long list of accomplishments at the professional level.

LaBranche has 26 first place titles, two national titles and 53 other titles as a right-handed professional. He recently placed second at the Sky BoxLouisiana State Armwrestling championships to Baton Rouge’s Robert Redden who is currently ranked second in the world.

Oberschmidt, who wrestles as a left-handed pro, placed first at the state championships this year in Shreveport. He also placed first in the TexasState championships, All-National Tournament and the Louisiana State “Best of the Best” tournament in 1997. In the latter tournament,Oberschmidt defeated Kevin Durante, a former amateur champion.

Oberschmidt also has had second place finishes in the 1997 Gulf Coast championships and Abilene tournament and the 1996 Contraband Days championships as well as a third-place finish at the 1997 Texas State championships in the Super 225 and up weight class.

Oberschmidt first started armwrestling in high school but got out of the sport to go into boxing. He decided to get back into armwrestling in 1994when he hooked up with LaBranche. LaBranche also got interested in thesport in high school when he found a book on armwrestling and wrote to the national association.

While there is a conception that armwrestling is a young man’s sport, Oberschmidt said it takes time to develop the tendons needed and get table experience. That is why many armwrestlers peak when they arebetween 30 and 40 years-old.

The mental component of armwrestling is as important as the physical part. An example of that is when Oberschmidt competed against BradGordon at the state tournament. The first time the two hooked up,Oberschmidt made a mental error which Gordon took advantage of for the victory. Oberschmidt told him it was a good pull but that he would makesome adjustments the next time they would meet. Oberschmidt then sweptthrough the double-elimination tournament and defeated Gordon twice for the title.

Strategy plays a major part in the sport. There are a wide range oftechniques an armwrestler can use, including the hook, the top roll, the post and the power slam. Oberschmidt has pictures taken of himself andother wrestlers to see what he does wrong and to scout.

Strategy and concentration are especially important in that a match can be over in a blink of an eye. Both LaBranche and Oberschmidt said that theyget psyched up going into a match. They focus not on their opponent but ona spot in space and concentrate on all their power going into their arms and finding a weakness in their opponent. Then the moment the refereesays go, they just give it all they got.

A typical tournament has 300 to 500 pulls in seven weight classes. Awrestler may pull 22 other wrestlers if he keeps wrestling. If he loses,that number may grow to 40 pulls. Oberschmidt said the draw is importantin that you might have to wrestle one of the higher ranked wrestlers before you get a chance to warm up.

But just because a wrestler is highly-ranked and been around a while does not mean that he is unbeatable.

“Anybody can be beat at any given time,” Oberschmidt said.

Oberschmidt had a shed in his backyard where he and LaBranche practiced.

That shed has also been the practice site for a number of state and national champions, including Jesse Peak, 1996 national left and right- handed champion. Oberschmidt also warms up by climbing a 30-foot ropein his backyard.

LaBranche and Ober-schmidt, the founders of the Monsters Gym organization, used to hold armwrestling contests at the Andouille Festival in LaPlace. LaBranche said the sport is on the rise again and Monsters Gymrecently held a tournament at RJ’s Lounge in LaPlace.

LaBranche and Oberschmidt said a lot of tournaments are held at the casinos and hotels and the ones held at barrooms are used to promote the sport. A lot of the tournaments are held to raise money for charities,especially children’s charities.

“We are not a bunch of mindless brutes,” Oberschmidt said. “We have somepretty heated rivalries but we don’t tear up barrooms.”Both LaBranche and Oberschmidt are training for the Contraband Days tournament held in Lake Charles in May. Top wrestlers from Georgia toCalifornia will be competing at the tournament. After that, their focuswill be on the National Pro-Am Armwrestling championships in Lake Tahoe, Nevada on June 13.

“I am gearing up for it,” Oberschmidt said.

But Oberschmidt said he feels that one does not have to win to be a champion.

“I feel there are no losers in a tournament,” Oberschmidt said. “Once youput your arm up there on the table, you are a champion. After that, it isjust who gets the trophy.”

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