Times Staff Writer
Rekindling a sport that’s lost momentum in recent years.
That is what coaches Chris Flynn, Ronnie Benson, Sparky Casebolt and Jessie Cruz have accomplished through the Gunnison Wrestling Dusters program.
“Dusters is not just a little kid thing,” Flynn said of the youth wrestling program in Gunnison. “That’s how it started out, but it’s all of Gunnison wrestling now.”
This season, Gunnison Wrestling teamed up with Jessie Cruz — head coach at Gunnison High School (GHS) and assistant coach at Gunnison Middle School (GMS) — resulting in GMS and GHS wrestlers joining the program.
“The Gunnison Middle School season is not that long,” said Flynn. “In order for the GMS wrestlers to be competitive at the high school level, they need to start wrestling earlier in the year.”
With the addition of wrestlers to the program and the kids wanting to compete, the Gunnison Wrestling coaching staff helped lengthen the season by adding more tournaments to the schedule.
“I would say the main reason why we extended the season was because of the kids,” said Benson. “There are also a lot of opportunities outside of our town to continue wrestling, and so we presented them with the information and they said, ‘Let’s go’.”
Gunnison Wrestling practices two days a week for an hour and a half. Practices are focused on improving technique — including defending “tricky moves” the young wrestlers may have seen in a tournament against a more advanced opponent.
“We work on a lot of technique,” said Benson. “Whether it is stuff we are actually lacking or seeing what other schools do, we just try to help these kids be successful.”
With the wrestlers on the mat from December to April, it can be hard to keep their interest and attention, but the Gunnison Wrestling coaching staff figured out a method.
“The big thing, especially at practice, is to have as much fun as possible,” said Flynn. “We play a lot of games on days where there minds are somewhere else and not really focused on wrestling.”
Gunnison Wrestling started with 28 participants this year — with 17 of them traveling somewhere to compete every weekend.
“A lot of kids that didn’t show up were young,” said Benson. “They were around 4 years old and were trying the sport out for the first time.”
If kids aren’t ready to compete, the Gunnison Wrestling coaching staff encourages parents to emphasize the fun of the sport.
As the season was coming to a close, many wrestlers who previously didn’t attend tournaments started to come and have success. The numbers over the years have grown for the Gunnison Wrestling program due to parental involvement and support, as well as word of mouth.
“Word of mouth is key,” said Flynn. “If they are having fun and going back to school talking to their buddies about the fun they had at a tournament, that’s how more kids become interested in the program.”
Additionally, coach Casebolt has developed programs such as the “10 win club” and “20 win club,” in which wrestlers who reach those goals obtain a T-shirt or a hat.
Over the course of the last three weeks, the Gunnison wrestlers have competed against some of the best kids in the state.
“Every week I’ve seen improvement from the kids,” said Benson. “Wrestling is a tough sport and requires commitment. We found a group of kids who are feeding off it and enjoying it.”
Last weekend in Alamosa, eight Pee Wee wrestlers — Brayden Anderson, Zach Benson, Zane Benson, Cody Casebolt, Cody Vic, Parker Vic, Lincoln Hemmert and Ayden Sunderland — and two middle school wrestlers — Josh Brockschmidt and Royce Uhrig — qualified for the state tournament that will take place on Saturday in Denver.
“It’s been awesome to coach these kids,” said Flynn. “To come down and focus on this level this year has been so much fun for me.”
(Brandon Warr can be reached at 970.641.1414 or email@example.com.)