While the ancient sport of Olympic freestyle wrestling flourishes just 15 minutes up the freeway in Abbotsford, it’s been nearly non-existent in Chilliwack.
Bill Brooks wants to change that, and he is gearing up to launch a new wrestling program called the Chilliwack Grapplers.
A former wrestler at the University of Alberta, Brooks wanted to introduce his 12 year old son to the sport last year.
He found he had just two options.
Chilliwack middle school and AD Rundle middle school both run programs that introduce the fundamentals of wrestling.
Sara Lee and Steven King are excellent coaches who work with a core group of eight to 15 dedicated kids. But they’re limited by resources and those programs are more recreational than competitive.
“Seeing that core population in the two middle schools, I thought, ‘Well, why can’t we have a community club that all these kids can participate in?'” Brooks explained. “Something where they can train with us and represent their schools at tournaments under the B.C. School Sports umbrella.”
Brooks submitted a detailed proposal to BC School Sports and his program was green-lighted last week. It’s also been endorsed by Chilliwack’s School District 33.
With initial funding from B.C. School Sports and B.C. Wrestling in place, the Chilliwack Grapplers are getting started with a free summer program.
The first session is Friday (July 19) and wrestlers will hit the mats Tuesdays and Fridays for 10 weeks between now and Sept. 26.
Training will be upstairs at the Landing Sports Centre on Spadina Avenue.
The Grapplers will welcome boys and girls in Grades 6-12 and Brooks emphasized that there is no experience required.
He views wrestling as an equalizer sport, great for athletes who don’t thrive in a team environment and great for those who aren’t a perfect physical fit for traditional school sports like volleyball, basketball and track and field.
“In some of those sports, even though a youngster might be athletically gifted, if he or she is on the shorter side they will ultimately lose out to a kid who has the same level of determination and skill and is just plain bigger,” he said. “With wrestling’s separation of athletes into weight classes, it levels the playing field and takes out the size factor.
“It gives a smaller athlete a chance to showcase his or her skills and be recognized.”
While the perception may be that wrestling is a male-dominant sport, Brooks said there are females who’ve accomplished great things, including reigning Olympic gold medalist Erica Wiebe.
Chilliwack’s Jenna McLatchy is another example.
The Chilliwack secondary grad started wrestling in high school and earned a scholarship to Simon Fraser University. Earning three All-American selections, McLatchy was a gold medalist at the 2011 Junior Pan American Games.
“Jenna is the best example of what can happen when the right youngster is given an opportunity,” Brooks noted.
He hopes to get good turnout for the summer sessions and get enough commitments to justify a fall program.
“Maybe it’s just 20 kids initially, but if you’ve got 20 keeners, that’s plenty,” he said. “If I can demonstrate a core level of interest in the summer, I believe I can get more funding for the fall from the provincial association.
“Ultimately we’ll have a user-pay system with a couple levels, a recreational one where the kids come out twice a week, and maybe a three-times-a-week version for the high schoolers where the practices are a little more technical.”
Building from scratch is a slow process, and in his proposal to B.C. School Sports, Brooks was cautious with projections of future growth for the Grapplers.
“I believe, over time, a participation level of one per cent of the total school population is achievable,” he wrote. “With 7,000 children in Grades 6-12 in SD33, it is possible 70 children could have an interest in participating in a community-based program.”
Eventually, Brooks would like to see the return of wrestling at the high school level. Sardis secondary had a program that died out around 10 years ago, but the athletic director (Brad Geary) is receptive to a rebirth.
“With middle schools in Chilliwack now Grades 6-8, there’s a real opportunity to build a feeder system,” Brooks said. “It would be great for local kids to represent their high schools locally, regionally and provincially.
“And after they’re done high school, the national training centre at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby is one of four in the country and there are other collegiate programs they can look at.”
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