Middle School Grapplers Learn to Master the Mat
The DMPS high school wrestling programs faced a predicament. Unless they found a way to grow the sport at lower levels and create the semblance of a feeder system to supply more and better trained athletes, they were headed for a collective fall.
So this year, at the behest of and with considerable help from the varsity high school coaching staffs, wrestling at the middle school level, long dormant in the district, was resurrected.
There was turnout at all 10 of the district middle schools when the season opened in October. Altogether, some 125 students, including two girls, participated, most of whom had nothing more than sibling skirmishes at home by way of previous experience. And yesterday at Lincoln the season was officially stamped a success with a four-mat circus of a city meet that combined the middle schools according to the high school they feed.
The North team consisted of Harding students, the Hoover team was from Meredith, Lincoln’s was comprised from McCombs, Brody and a few Weeks students, East’s came from Hoyt, Goodrell, Hiatt and Weeks, and Roosevelt was Callanan and Merrill.
There was thumping, pre-meet music. There was exhortation raining down from the parental gallery. There was plenty of refereed mat-slapping and whistle-tooting. There was even some practice at podium-climbing by meet’s end, though no formal team standings were compiled and medals weren’t minted. Neither did wrestlers have to sweat out pre-meet weigh-ins. But most of the trappings were there.
DMPS Student Activities Specialist Allyson Vukovich characterized the meet as the perfect culmination for a season that all concerned are declaring a successful first step towards breaking the hold of low participation at the high school level. It’s all part of a comprehensive effort to engage more students in extra-curricular interests at all secondary levels.
“This couldn’t have happened without tremendous help from the high school coaches,” Vukovich said. “That’s why we staggered the middle school season with the high school one, so they could be involved and also make their facilities available for practice and training.” The high schools wanted a middle school program so badly they eagerly made this up-front investment of time in anticipation of dividends in the form of higher turnouts at tryouts when 8th graders officially report next year as frosh.
Lincoln coach Dustin Roland anticipates maybe twice as many wrestlers in his practice room next season. The Railsplitters have 29 on their high school roster this season and 35 in their middle school program.
Given the rampant inexperience in the field, there were more pins yesterday at Lincoln than you’d find in a tailor’s shop, but that allowed the meet to complete all of its brackets in one continuous session. The purpose was served. The battle is joined. Numbered are the days when DMPS novices take the mat in high school against foes who’ve been making pretzels of opponents since grade school.
“It’s all about giving kids another reason to care about school,” said Vukovich. “If they want to wrestle they’ve got to get to class and make grades.” So score a reversal of a downward trend in DMPS wrestling.
Matt (yes, that’s his real name) Jones from Merrill, fresh from a pin in his first match yesterday, said he plans to go out for wrestling next year at Roosevelt. One of his other sports is cross country, a fall sport that will help condition him for a winter in the wrestling room.
What attracts him to the primal, hand-to-hand sport? “It’s a great way to meet kids from other schools,” he said with a straight face.
Yeah, up close and real personal.
There must be a finer line than the uninitiated would think between a fist bump and a takedown; between the dance and the grudge match. Take the two grinning grapplers that walked away from a match yesterday arm in arm. If you hadn’t seen it happen you wouldn’t have been able to tell whose arm had just been hoisted in conquest of whom. It might have been just the beginning of a beautiful rivalry.