Special Report: Challenges for Wrestling in Northland Pt. 2

Impact of Youth Wrestling Programs

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Wrestling is slowly gaining ground in The Northland. What it needs to thrive are strong youth programs.

“You can’t do it without a youth program. You can’t do it without a feeder program,” said Cloquet varsity wrestling coach Al Denman.

The Northland has proven to be a tough battle ground for wrestling. Making youth programs all that more important.

“Without those youth kids learning the basics and getting that experience early on, you can’t build a program without them,” said Denman.

The schools committed to building strong youth programs, have seen positive results.

“The youth programs in this area are great. There’s a lot of great coaches around and they’re doing the same things that we’re doing,” North Shore youth wrestling coach Eric McPhee said. “Getting kids excited about wrestling and they’re loving it. It’s giving those kids that don’t play hockey or basketball something to do.”

North Shore has jumped head first into the 10 year building process and their patience is slowly paying off.

“With our youth numbers the way they are, we got a good foundation going and it’s just a matter of keeping that momentum and we’ll get there,” McPhee said.

And to get there, not only will the coaches have to be patient, but also the wrestlers.

“We talk about building. You’re kind of a pioneer. You’re starting the foundation. Nope you don’t have a great team right now, but wouldn’t it be cool to be a pioneer and lead,” said McPhee.

Pioneering in a sport that can be tough to stay involved in.

“Getting kids to stick with it is tough. Kids are fickle. Likes and dislikes change by the week. You just try to keep them interested, keep them having fun at practice and keep them wanting to wrestle,” McPhee said.

And for youth wrestlers that can be a difficult thing.

“There’s nothing more challenging in the world than to go out on the mat and basically get in a controlled fight with rules and sometimes you’re the big dog. A lot of times you’re not. And when you’re the little dog it’s tough,” said Cloquet youth wrestling coach Jim Allen.

Constant positive reinforcement is a must for all wrestlers, gig dog and little dog alike.

“We impress upon them that nothing in life that’s easy is what you want. The things that are hard are what you need to keep working at to get,” said Allen.

Cloquet is in the tenth year of it’s building process and is seeing the effects of what a strong youth and varsity program can do.

“the younger kids feed the high school program. We have older kids than can look to the older seniors for positive role models and we can point out to them, that’s what you need to be,” said Allen. “You need to be a respectful young man or lady. Be tough on the mat, but above all be a good person and work hard.”

Starting a varsity program in Duluth will pose a number of challenges, but it all begins with the youth.

“They’d have to start with a wrestling youth program. They’d have to find facilities and that’s going to be a trick but there is space somewhere, it’s just a matter of finding it. Once they get that space and that youth program going, it will build after that. The interest is going to be there,” said Al Denman.

Interest for a sport looking to build upon a little momentum, in hopes of pinning down more interest and exposure in The Northland.

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