Lowcountry fans are flocking to a new sport: Wrestling. New teams and tournaments are cropping up each season as more students become interested in the activity.
Many parents, however, are finding it challenging to understand the sport’s rules and scoring, and often struggle to know how to help their child and the team. Having a beginner’s knowledge of wrestling can help relieve anxiety associated with a new sport and help both parents and children follow along with the ups and downs of a match.
“There’s not much to do in winter if you aren’t good at basketball. In wrestling, kids are competing against others their same size. It burns off some energy, too,” says Bluffton coach Justin Jarrett. He and fellow coach Chad Cox often discussed the need for a younger team in the area, but it took a while to take off. “When I got here in 2005, wrestling was already starting to grow in Beaufort County. There was not a youth team in Bluffton, though.”
Later, when both coaches’ young children expressed an interest in wrestling, it wasn’t convenient to drive to Hilton Head Island for practice. So they started Lowcountry Wrestling Club, in partnership with May River High School’s wrestling program, practicing twice a week after the older kids have finished.
On Hilton Head, the Little Seahawks Youth Wrestling Team practices at Hilton Head Island High School. The coaches and high school athletes interact with the younger kids and they have their own wrestling room at the school. Jake Sowers is the new coach for the club: “I’m originally from Cambridge, Ohio, and wrestling is huge there. I’ve been in wrestling for 30 years, competing from sixth grade through high school. I just took over the program.”
Parents say they’re excited for their kids to have the chance to try a new sport.
“My husband and I were both athletes growing up and played many sports. We both believe sports and exercise have tremendous physical, mental and social benefits. We've always wanted our children to find a sport they enjoy so they can have those same benefits,” says Nina Peterson, whose two boys, 5-year-old Reed and 7-year-old Chase, have joined the wrestling program. “We tried the usual soccer team and thought they would love it because they both love to run around so much, but it just didn't click with them. We tried basketball and it was fine, but they weren't excited about that, either. After the very first wrestling practice, they were bouncing off the walls with excitement to go back.”
Wrestling requires a few pieces of gear. They wear special shoes that grip the mat and move naturally with the movements of the foot. Headgear covers the ears to prevent injury. And while singlets aren’t always necessary, most competitors wear them. They allow freedom of movement and prevent loose clothes from getting tangled between wrestlers or reduced visibility for the referee. Many leagues won’t allow regular exercise clothing for wrestling.
At competitions, athletes are divided into weight classes so that they face off against someone of similar size. Before the match, wrestlers weigh in to make sure they are in the correct weight category. They can only choose to wrestle higher than their assigned category, never at a lower weight. When older wrestlers talk about “making weight,” this is what they’re referring to.
After weigh-in is a great time to provide a snack. Good choices are granola bars, bananas and hydration packs to prepare for the matches to come.
During the match, the wrestlers will enter the circle, where they’ll be watched over by a referee. They shake hands and wait for the whistle. The objective of the wrestling match is to pin the other wrestler. A “pin” involves getting the opponent on his back with part of both shoulders or both shoulder blades touching the mat for two seconds. If this happens, the referee will slap the mat, indicating a pin.
If the wrestler holds his opponent close to the mat at an angle less than 45 degree for a few seconds, the referee will award what is called a “near fall.” Time indicates how many points the wrestler earns — if the hold lasts two seconds, the wrestler gets two points; if he makes it to five seconds, he gets three points.
If no one is pinned in the match after three periods, the points decide the winner. And there are other ways to get points: If a wrestler takes the opponent down to the ground and controls the situation, that’s a takedown. It’s worth two points. If the opponent escapes, he can earn a point for that. If the opponent escapes and dominates the other wrestler, he gets two points.
This point system is applied to each match, making each an individual win. However, tournaments can also add up team points, which are all different for pins, wins by points, technicals and other factors. Some tournaments are strictly individual, some are for teams and some score both.
Lowcountry Wrestling Club competes in a league that includes Savannah. The short drive makes it convenient for families to attend tournaments. Other area teams compete in this league as well, like the Little Seahawks.
At the Shark Fights, a recent event at Islands High School in Savannah, Lowcountry Wrestling Club found itself up against the Little Seahawks. New and experienced wrestlers from both teams earned medals, smiling at their wins and dealing with their losses with hugs. High school athletes were referees, providing guidance and instruction and helping the young children learn the proper movements of the sport. The gym was full of participants and parents.
As new wrestlers, Peterson’s young boys didn’t win, but they still came home with smiles.
“Even though they lost, they left feeling proud of themselves, it was really pretty awesome,” she said. “Their confidence is growing by leaps and bounds with every week. I consider that a huge triumph.”
Coach Jarrett says wrestling has a lot to teach area youngsters — if they stick with it.
“This sport will teach humility, discipline, accountability and perseverance,” he said. “The list of qualities that you want to instill in your child that it teaches are endless.”
Jessica Farthing is a Savannah freelance writer and mom of three. She often looks at her children being almost grown and wonders how it happened so fast!