Battle on the Midway: Fresno State vs. Army, Wisconsin vs. Navy

Robert “Rob” Arlett, a former county councilman in Delaware, ran for U.S. Senate in 2018, losing to incumbent Democratic Sen. Tom Carper. In 2016, Arlett was state chairman for Donald Trump.

So what brought him and Lorna, his wife of nearly 30 years, to San Diego on Friday night, sitting on the flight deck of the USS Midway?

Nothing political. Call it nautical.

They and perhaps 500 others were drawn to the third annual Battle on the Midway collegiate wrestling tournament.

Rob Arnett, next to wife Lorna, applauds Navy wrestlers after flying 3,000 miles. His son is a manager on the team. Photo by Chris Stone

The season-opening event saw Army defeat Fresno State 29-9 and powerful Wisconsin (ranked No. 4 or No. 6 in the nation, depending on poll) swamp Navy 24-12.

The Arletts cheered the Midshipmen from $125 front-row seats since Jared, one of their two sons, is a student manager for Navy’s wrestling team (and a backup grappler himself as a former Delaware prep standout).

Jared is “living the dream,” his father said between matches. The Annapolis junior had wanted to attend Navy since grade school. Jared’s grandfather was a 1968 Naval Academy graduate.

It also was a homecoming for the Arletts, since Rob, 52, moved to San Diego County when he was 4 years old, attending Bonita Vista Junior High (now middle school), Bonita Vista High School and Ramona High for a time.

Rob has a brother who still lives locally, and former Chula Vistan Lorna Arlett has a cousin they’re staying with on this trip — also in Chula Vista.

But the Arletts hadn’t been back since the early 1980s. So they’ll extend their stay through Nov. 9 and take in another Navy meet Saturday — against California Baptist University in Riverside.

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The day after flying home 3,000 miles, Rob said, “we’re driving up to Pennsylvania because we’re wrestling Penn State, which is the No. 1 program in the country. That’s how you get better.”

He kept his glass-half-full attitude about the Badgers beating his Navy boys.

“I think that Navy will take this experience from tonight and launch … a very successful season,” he said. “We’re very proud of the Navy wrestlers and all the supporters from our great beloved San Diego city.”

In fact, a daylight wrestling event on the Broadway Pier was called the AFC (for America’s Finest City) Duals, where Wisconsin beat Fresno State (31-8) and Army (16-15). (Organizers said 1,047 attended events overall.)

The Badgers flew in Wednesday, having left with snow on the ground. The Army wrestlers wore T-shirts in warmups with a twist on another phrase. They boasted “Boots on the Mat.”

CBS Sports taped the featured nighttime matches on the legendary aircraft carrier for airing Sunday morning and again on Veterans Day.

Out of respect for the historic venue apparently, Wisconsin wrestlers wore camouflage outfits. Navy athletes wore gold singlets with the legend “Don’t give up the ship.”

Seconding that motion was wrestling dad Arlett — a former intelligence specialist in the U.S. Naval Reserve.

“Tonight was a great experience,” he said, “but we will never give up our ship.”