Youth wrestling tournament wraps up

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Tehya Johnson walked around the high school gymnasium on Sunday with an ear-to-ear smile on her face.

Carrying a six-inch trophy with flashing lights on top, the 6-year-old was beaming after her first place finish at the Yampa Valley Invitational youth wrestling tournament.

"I really like getting the trophies," Tehya said after finishing her last match. "I'm really, really happy because I knew this lighted up. I can use it as a night light."

Not to be outdone, Tehya's 8-year-old brother Tyler had a first place trophy of his own. After pinning his two opponents, Tyler clutched his trophy and proudly told anyone who would listen about his day.

"This is my first trophy I've ever gotten," Tyler said. "It feels really good. I'm going to put it with all my medals I have."

The Johnson siblings were two of 119 wrestlers ranging from ages 3 to 14 who competed at the youth tournament. As part of the Intermountain Wrestling League, the Steam-boat Wolfpack Wrestling Club hosted six other clubs from Western Slope and mountain towns.

Intermountain Wrestling President Debbie Tomlin said the tournament and League is designed to offer youth wrestlers an opportunity to wrestle in a relaxed environment that caters to all levels. With most leagues in the region starting in February or March, Tomlin said this tournament also helps the parents.

"It's nice because parents don't have to travel all the way to Denver," Tomlin said. "Plus, leagues in Rifle and Grand Junction don't start for awhile."

Steamboat Springs had 19 youth wrestlers competing, including the Johnson siblings. On Thursday, the Wolfpack club hosted American wrestling legend Rulon Gardner. After speaking to a crowd of more than 200, Gardner put on a clinic for the club.

Sunday's tournament gave many of the youth wrestlers an opportunity to try out some of Gardner's techniques.

"I tried the chop," 7-year-old Wilder Gray said, holding his first place trophy in one hand and exhibiting the chop with the other. "Every time I did it, I just got thrown down. I guess I'll keep working on it."

Long-time youth coach Richard "Leo" Atkinson said the weekend, which featured Gardner, a high school tournament and the youth tournament on Sunday, was a complete success.

"The kids are the best," he said. "They all learned it's not if you win or lose, it's if you try your best."

- To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229

or e-mail lgraham@steamboatpilot.com

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