Plenty of factors help keep numbers up for struggling wrestling program
November 14, 2008
Steamboat Springs — If they argued, perhaps it wouldn’t work.
They don’t argue, though, and, for now, the Steamboat Springs wrestling team is alive. That’s quite an accomplishment considering the squad fielded just two wrestlers last season.
The team struggled for years with ever-decreasing numbers, and what helped the program avoid the pin could be the topic of quite the debate.
Maybe its junior Derek Morris who has kept the Sailors’ wrestling boat afloat.
Morris returns for the new season as the program’s most experienced wrestler. He’s optimistic, goal-orientated and honest.
“This time last year, I didn’t think we’d have a team again,” he said.
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It would have been disappointing, he said, and he knows disappointment. He was red hot last season but suffered a string of debilitating injuries and was so stricken by mono late in the year he couldn’t even get out of bed.
Rather than quit, however, he pressured friends and classmates all through the off-season. When a new year opened up with the first practice earlier this week, he still had a team, now swollen to 11 wrestlers.
“I just really like wrestling,” Morris said. “There’s no sport harder than wrestling. There’s no better feeling that winning a match.”
Was it Morris who helped the program survive, or was it coach Shane Yeager, a fiery former Steamboat high school wrestler?
Yeager has been a part of youth wrestling programs in Steamboat for years.
“It’s my life,” he said of the sport.
He may be the life of wrestling in Steamboat. Wide, strong and rough around the edges, Yeager exudes enthusiasm for his sport at all levels.
He was as quick Thursday to talk up the prospects he’s tutored in middle school and junior high wrestling programs as he was to heap praise on the athletes he was coaching in the wrestling room at Steamboat Springs High School.
“My best group, it’s the seventh- and eighth-graders,” he said, his tree-trunk arms stuck to his hips as he considered that statement. “Wait. I don’t know – my third- and fourth-graders are animals, too.”
Yeager was an assistant with the high school team for several years and stepped into the head coaching position just two weeks before practices started after former coach Sean McCarthy had to take a hiatus.
He plans to make the entire team stronger by focusing more on moves, holds and wrestling tactics than has been done in the past.
Did Morris or Yeager save the program, or was it senior Steven Lucas?
Lucas stands almost as Yeager’s opposite. He’s skinny, sports a bushy head of hair and is quiet in comparison. Like his coach, he spent Thursday patrolling the mats looking to offer advice and help inexperienced wrestlers quicken moves and tighten holds.
It’s a unique role for a student only three years into the sport. It’s an astonishing role for one who just arrived in Steamboat Springs several months ago.
Lucas started his wrestling career in Baltimore as a sophomore. The sport, to him, always has been a part of a broad-based interest in fighting sports. Once in Steamboat, he used that interest to help revive the team.
He held tutoring sessions with his new classmates during the fall, working in the wrestling room on martial arts and wrestling.
“Wrestling was kind of a joke when I got here,” Lucas said. “Then we started doing stuff after school, and more kids got interested. I was teaching jujitsu, some ground combat and I was doing it all just to get other people interested in wrestling.”
Was it an Ultimate Fighter-type appeal that Lucas brought, or was it something or someone else that rescued the Steamboat wrestling team? Alone, Morris, Yeager and Lucas don’t make much of a squad.
Steamboat Athletics Director Richard Lee insisted the program would never disappear.
It may drop to become a Tier 2 sport, or, as a worst-case scenario, Steamboat’s wrestlers could join those of either Soroco or Hayden high schools. Still, the half-dozen wrestlers that joined Morris, Yeager and Lucas working Thursday are a testament that it may never to come to that.
The recruiting efforts by all three have started to pay off. Thomas Tuthill, a freshman, was unlucky enough to spend most of the evening as Yeager’s test dummy. Tuthill hung on as his coach taught, often with his face plastered to the mat or tucked in an armpit.
First-year high school wrestlers Beto Rivera and Edgar Moreno fought each other nearby, taking tips from anyone dishing them out.
“I wanted to try something new,” said Austin Ritzel, a sophomore also in his first year wrestling. “The size of the program didn’t bother me. It helped me decide, actually. Steamboat has a great wrestling tradition, and I wanted to help keep it alive.”
Whoever it was that tipped the scale and helped wrestling in Steamboat survive at least one more year wasn’t interested in taking credit Thursday evening. Instead, the group focused on the task of preparing for the season’s first meet.
“Already this season’s been very successful,” Lucas said. “I know they only had two people out last year. To have this many people here and have this much support is a success.”
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