Youth wrestling program gets ready for busy year of competition
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
What most don’t realize is how much the sport brings people together. I consider the members of our club family. Four to five months of the year we spend together. We rely on each other throughout the season to help out. Of all the sports I have been involved in, there is nothing like wrestling." – Dan Bonamie, Grayling Youth Wrestling Club Coach
The Grayling Youth Wrestling Club (GYWC) – a group open to boys and girls in grades four through eight – is getting ready for another busy season, with coaches and organizers expecting approximately 80 kids to be involved in this year’s campaign.
“We have about 65 wrestlers signed up at this time,” said Dan Bonamie, one of the coaches for the GYWC. “Many of the middle school boys will be adding to that as basketball is ending. Guessing we will have 75 to 80 kids in the program throughout this season.”
The club has boys and girls with a variety of experience levels, including first-timers to the sports of wrestling and wrestlers who’ve competed for state championships and beyond.
“Our group has a wide range of ability levels from beginner to some of our kids competing at national levels,” Coach Bonamie said.
In Michigan, wrestling seems to be a growing sport for girls. In 2016, the GYWC and Grayling High School teamed up for an all-girls club team, one of the first of its kind in the state. The squad competed in tournaments sanctioned by the new Michigan Girls Wrestling Association (MIGWAY). The GYWC “has about 20 girls in our program currently,” Coach Bonamie said.
“We have seen an explosion of girls (in wrestling) across the country,” Coach Bonamie said.
Coaches said the program practices two to three days per week for an hour and a half each session.
Also, coaches offer “open mats once in a while so kids can work on specific things individually,” Coach Bonamie said.
At the high school level, wrestling is not entirely a team sport, nor is it entirely an individual sport. At meets during the week, high school teams battle against other squads in dual competition, one team vs. another, 14 weight classes. Victories earn points for the team, and the squad with the most points at the end wins; however, it is still somewhat of an individual sport during duals because each match is one vs. one.
During the weekends, high school teams compete in a variety of meets with different formats. Some pit teams against each other in a tournament style. Others are focused on individual placements and do not have team scores at all. Some combine the two formats, with individual placements accounting for team points. In the postseason, tournaments include team districts and individual districts, team regionals and individual regionals, giving both teams and individuals opportunities to advance and compete for state titles.
In past seasons, the youth wrestling tournaments have mostly been structured as individual events, but that may be changing.
“Other sports emphasize on teamwork, not so much individual growth. Wrestling is different. When on the mat it is one on one. Each wrestler must decide how much dedication they will have and what level of success they are willing to work for. We are in the beginning stages of starting elementary and middle school dual teams so the kids can learn more about strategizing and working as a team through the sport also,” Coach Bonamie said.
Over the weekend, the GYWC had several members competing on Michigan National Teams at a meet in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
“A great experience for them. They will be wrestling side by side with college wrestlers competing for the Great Lakes championships,” Coach Bonamie said.
The club also had wrestlers at a North East Michigan Wrestling Association (NEMWA) tournament in Gladwin and others at a series of Michigan Youth Wrestling Association (MYWAY) meets. It’s not unusual for the group to be split among several different tournaments over the course of a weekend depending on which meets are available.
“The parents pick how many and what tournaments their kids will compete in; there is no pressure from the coaches or club. In the last year we have had kids compete in nine different states,” Coach Bonamie said.
The club’s coaches want the wrestlers to work hard to get better, but they also want it to be fun.
“As a group we are dedicated to helping youth reach their goals, opening up opportunities to those working towards them, and most importantly they need to have fun. These kids work hard at practice and are rewarded with games and fun times,” Coach Bonamie said. “We talk to them about the value of self-discipline, how to set (and) reach goals in wrestling, and how you can use the same principles in life. We enjoy seeing the growth this sport brings to these youth.”
“What most don’t realize is how much the sport brings people together. I consider the members of our club family. Four to five months of the year we spend together. We rely on each other throughout the season to help out. Of all the sports I have been involved in, there is nothing like wrestling,” Coach Bonamie said.
“My expectation of this program this year is first and foremost for the kids to enjoy themselves and learn the sport,” Coach Brad Duncan said. “Success comes from hard work at practice and a drive to do well in competitions. Our returning wrestlers know where they stand and what they need to do to get themselves to the next level. Our newcomers will develop quickly this season and we are excited to be able to showcase them before our varsity meets as often as possible.”
The GYWC has a dual competition vs. Gaylord slated for Wednesday, Jan. 11, at Grayling High School. The match will precede a GHS varsity wrestling meet.
The wrestling program at Grayling High School has an established record of success. The program has a streak of 43 consecutive years of having a state finals qualifier, multiple district titles, several conference championships, and multiple individual district, regional, and state champions. Many current members of the varsity squad got their start in the sport in the youth wrestling program. GYWC coaches hope to contribute to the high school team’s continued success through practice and tournament experience offered by the youth program.
“Our goals as a program this year are to continue to develop high-level wrestlers that can compete with the best in the state and nation, setting our high school program up in the future for great things,” Coach Duncan said. “We are very proud of how these young boys and girls handle the pressure of such a grueling sport, the physical endurance they must get through, as well as the sportsmanship that they show on and off the mat everywhere we take them.”
Andy Moore, varsity wrestling coach for Grayling High School, said the youth wrestling programs in Grayling have done a good job of providing the high school team with skilled wrestlers.
“They’re great. We’re getting kids that are all ready to wrestle, just gets us that much further along,” Moore said.
The GYWC will host a tournament at Grayling High School at noon on Sunday, Jan. 15.