Pinning and winning: Youth wrestling vibrant in Eagle County
GYPSUM – Hundreds of kids spent Saturday sweating and laughing and winning.
The Bald Eagle Wrestling tournament attracted pint-sized grapplers from all over Western Colorado. From the chaos and fun of an event that size, a few champions and bunch of life emerge.
Bald Eagle is for kids kindergarten through 8th grade. Younger than that and you really are too young. Older and you move on to high school wrestling.
It’s 70 wrestlers strong, one of the largest programs in the Intermountain League.
“It’s mostly Eagle and Gypsum kids,” said Charlie Nestlerode, Bald Eagle head coach.
Up valley you’ll find Wolfpack Wrestling in Edwards.
Nestlerode has plenty of good help. On Saturday, you couldn’t look bewildered and confused without someone in a black Bald Eagle coaching polo shirt asking if they could help you find something. Mostly, people were looking for their kids. Eventually they found them.
This is Nestlerode’s sixth year with the program, his third as head coach. He’s also club president.
His two sons, Riley, 14, and Sawyer, 10, are wrestlers, and the family’s wrestling roots reach all the way back to Pennsylvania where Charlie grew up grappling.
Almost every coach has a kid or two out there.
Robert Cuevas grew up wrestling in the valley, a multple state-qualifier for Eagle Valley High School. He’s now a local middle school principal.
When son Hayden decided he wanted to try wrestling, about all anyone had to do to get Robert involved was come by and knock on the door.
“We had heard about the program,” Cuevas said. “It’s an opportunity for kids to get involved and stay active.”
WECMRD provides all the gear and the school district provides the wrestling rooms where they team practices twice a week.
They travel around Western Colorado for tournaments many winter weekends. Wrestling parents are like hockey parents or swimming parents or any other kind of parents who schlep kids around – which is every kind of parent.
Beat Your Butt Barbi
Luke Morrissey and Lucas Comroe are typical of wrestles with the Bald Eagle program. They like to wrestle and travel, and they love to win.
“It’s a fun sport and I like to travel around to wrestle,” Morrissey said. “My favorite place is Steamboat. When we’re done wrestling we can go to the hot springs pool.”
Comroe is 8 years old, but quickly points out he’ll be 9 years old in 11 days. He saw some wrestlers on television and thought they looked like they were having fun. Turns out they were, and so is he, he says.
And their favorite part?
“I like it when I pin someone,” Morrissey said.
“I like the feeling of pinning and winning,” Comroe said.
Bald Eagle and other wrestling programs attract some girls. If they’re going to play with dolls, it’ll be Beat Your Butt Barbi, and Barbi had better know how to throw a reversal – and we ain’t talkin’ about sticking Ken in the kitchen.
Saturday’s Intermountain League tournament was one of those studies in kids’ sports events. The kids are the big deal, but not big. You can run eight matches simultaneously: two mats, four matches to a mat.
Coaches give instruction, usually gently and positively. Kids sometimes stop in the middle of a match to listen to it. One kid was about to pin his opponent and stopped to look at his coach, as his opponent escaped. It was a life lesson for both coach and wrestler. You can pick your spots to instruct, and kids can do most of this on their own.
In the Bald Eagle program, kids weigh in once at the start of the season and wrestle there all season. They do not diet. They wrestle against kids their own age, weight and skill level, and are not thrown in over their heads.
They learn all the stuff sports is supposed to teach: that work and dedication pay off, that attitude and enthusiasm matter, that someone will win and someone will lose, and that you can lose with grace and win with sportsmanship …
But they all understand that winning is better than anything else you can do out there.
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