There were half a dozen of them, young men in their late teens or early twenties, instead of awake, eager for the show to begin.

“We want the dwarves!” one shouted.

“Give us the dwarves!” shouted his friend.

Later, as 4-foot-2 Short Sleeve wrestler Sampson perched on a turnbuckle, facing the crowd, one of those mean brothers yelled, “How can you be so short?” His friends cracked up.

They were a petty minority in the crowd of some 500 gathered at the Sonoma County Fair Friday night for a show called “Midget Wrestling Warriors.”

It was a raucous and exuberant exhibition of professional wrestling. There were loathsome heels, like Little Mean Kathleen, and the boring, cowardly, ironically named Rob the Giant. There was some acrobatic action, most notably in the match between Zoey Skye and Reina Dorado, trained in the Mexican lucha libre tradition of high-flying attacks.

“It’s a very athletic mix of acrobatics, mixed with martial arts, mixed with entertainment,” said Rob Haugh, who had a thriving business selling shirts, posters, trading cards and more. produced in a pop-up tent near the ring.

But it wasn’t easy for everyone, at least at first.

“I thought it was a little weird that they had it,” said Sonoma’s Steve – he chose not to share his last name – who was seated in the stands facing the ring.

“Are people here because they want to watch wrestling or because they want to watch midgets?”

Provide a “showcase”

So how did this event, which struck many as callous, exploitative and antiquated, end up at this year’s county fair?

Dan DiLucchio, aka Short Sleeve Sampson — he’s also the owner and promoter of Midget Wrestling Warriors — sent a flyer to Sonoma County Fair CEO Rebecca Bartling. In a later conversation, they talked about “potential issues” around such an event.

DiLucchio emphasized that he and his colleagues are professional athletes and entertainers who “project a positive image” for their community, recalled Bartling, who also noted that the fair is always looking for ways to “diversify” acts and entertainment. that she offers.

“I talked about it with my board, and we all thought it would be a good opportunity for him to show what he does with his group.”

People are laughing

Angie Giuffre, who lives in the city of Sonoma, is the administrative manager of Little People of America, which provides support for people with dwarfism and their families. “It’s tough,” she said, when asked for her thoughts on Friday’s show.

On the one hand, “wrestlers get paid – that’s what they do for a living.”

On the other hand, she believes that the very existence of “dwarven wrestling” events retards the progress made by the little people in gaining mainstream acceptance.

Now 60, she has been teased and teased all her life, especially as a child and in high school.

“Now things are much better,” she said, especially since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990.

Midget wrestling events, she believes, “are such a negative environment. People are laughing. The day before Friday’s show, which she did not attend, Giuffre said, “Why are we doing this? It’s just going to set us back two steps.

The M-word

Jennifer Crumley, publicity director for Little People of America, doesn’t blame wrestlers for their livelihood, either. Every little person “has the right to be employed in any profession, just like the rest of the population,” she wrote in an email. “We encompass a wide variety of careers and vocations, ranging from theatre, entrepreneurship, biologists and doctors to teachers and disability activists.”

However, she added, Little People of America takes issue with “the developer’s choice to use the term dwarf.”

Little People of America considers the name an insult, pointing out that it was not coined as an official term to identify people with dwarfism, but rather “was created as a label used to refer to people of short stature. which were exhibited to the public for curiosity and sport.

Regardless of the “physical skills and expertise” of the micro-wrestlers, or their talents as performers, she concluded, “they’re advertised as if they’re little more than a sideshow.” .

This poses a branding issue for DiLucchio, who certainly doesn’t mean to offend anyone in the little people community. “But if I called the show ‘Little People Wrestling’,” he said, “they’ll think it’s a group of kids. “

Granted, DiLucchio could use a variation of the term “microwrestling,” which “might be a little more socially acceptable,” he admitted.