As a freelance sports writer, I have the opportunity to cover a lot of high school sports. One of my favorite sports to write about is wrestling, because I was a wrestler and I have a real passion for the sport.
I was covering our state championship last year and looked at the programs that finished at the top. I realized that they all had something in common four schools that finished in the top five at state last year had a youth wrestling program where kids would come in and start learning how to wrestle at the elementary school level.
Youth wrestling is so important to a high school's success in the sport because it teaches kids the fundamentals of wrestling and allows them to learn techniques at their own pace. With this, students begin to learn at a very young age the dedication and discipline it takes to be a state champion, or at the very least the best they are capable of being.
I talked to many of the state individual wrestling champions that year about their experiences with the sport and what it meant to win a state title. Every single one of them had participated in youth wrestling and said that they didn't think they could have achieved what they had if they had not started wrestling at an early age. Many of them had received college scholarships for wrestling.
The school that finished in the top five in the state that did not have a youth wrestling program just so happened to be one of the schools I cover on a regular basis. They finished second overall as a team, which is remarkable considering that they don't have a program for younger kids.
I spoke to the coach afterwards about his team finishing second and how he felt about that. He was elated, but said that until his school district implemented a youth wrestling program, it would not be on equal footing with some of the other top programs in the state. I had not even mentioned my thoughts on youth wrestling before he brought that up.
I am a prime example of what could have been when it comes to high school wrestling without a youth program. I never had the opportunity to participate in youth wrestling, and while I was a good wrestler, winning district on a couple of occasions, I was not an elite wrestler like the state qualifiers were. I really believe that if I could have participated in youth wrestling, it would have been a different story.
Youth wrestling helps young wrestlers develop in so many ways. It teaches them self-control and self-respect, and it better prepares kids for high school and college wrestling. I would advocate it to any school district that wishes to build a strong wrestling tradition.