By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Wrestling in the area has slowly been fading in terms of participation at the high school level, not just in the area, but across the state.
Ashtabula County’s youth coaches are trying stop that fade dead in its tracks by building the sport’s popularity at the youth level.
In order to accomplish that goal, those coaches started the Ashtabula County Youth Wrestling Duals. The third installment of the competition will take place today at 6 p.m. at Garcia Gymnasium.
“We all take pride in our own teams,” Mike Sanford, one of many coaches with the Conneaut Cougars and event spokesperson, said. “The more mat time the kids get, the better they’ll be. Every one of the youth coaches in the county wants to get the level of wrestling back to where it was 15 years ago.”
Grapplers from kindergarten through sixth grade from the Conneaut Cougars, Little Lizards, Jefferson, Grand Valley, Pymatuning Valley and Geneva will take to the mats in 22 weight classes between 48 and 175 pounds.
Two mats will play home to the round-robin event. The team with the best record will be crowned champion. Two team trophies and a Most Valuable Wrestler award will be handed out.
Admission is $3 per adult and kids are free with a paid adult. American Legion members who show their ID cards will get in free, as well.
“We are supported greatly by the American Legion and that way we can say thank you,” Sanford said.
The young wrestlers are not new to the dual-meet format, but there will be a new wrinkle thrown at them.
“We all wrestle dual meets on Sundays at Madison in the Ohio Youth Wrestling League, Northcoast Division, but we don’t have a team championship,” Sanford said. “This kind of gives us a chance to fight for bragging rights.”
Those battles could help to fortify rivalries at the high school level in the near future.
“There’s a lot competition between the youth coaches,” Sanford said. “That rolls over into the wrestlers. The thing we’re stress the most is that we want to promote the sport in Ashtabula County because it’s been slowly fading. We’re trying to promote the positive and give the wrestlers a chance to shine in their communities.”
There are no age groups in the event. The best wrestlers on the teams in each weight will be the ones taking to the mats, regardless of the age difference to their opponents.
“They need mat time,” Sanford said. “Sunday is sectionals and mat time is the most important. I’m a firm believer that it never hurts to get beat. It makes them more hungry every time they get beat. There will be some brutal matches.
“That will show them right where they’re at for sectionals.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.