Slammers providing opportunities to wrestlers
Justin Smith, an 8-year-old, 55-pound wrestler from the Lansing Slammers, bore down and pinned his opponent in recent a match. He went on that day to finish second in his weight class.
"Chest to chest." "Don't ride so high." "Use your feet for leverage."
These and an assortment of other commands are hollered by coaches and parents alike as one of the oldest pugilistic sports in the world takes place every Saturday morning, the sport of youth wrestling.
There are grunts, groans, smiles and tears as thousands of youngsters, both boys and girls, ranging from age 5 to 18, from clubs across the nation meet each other on the mat for one-on-one action.
Lansing has its own wrestling club called the Slammers. It consists of about 25 members under the age of 14 who soon will be joined by the high school wrestlers.
Starting in late September, these young people begin their routine of practice three to five times per week and then off on some journey into the darkness on an early Saturday morning. Upon arrival they are taken out of the car (many times still asleep and carried by dad) and into a gym crowded with others who, just like them, are half asleep. There, they can stand on the scale and get weighed in. From then on, one would swear they had joined the military as the rest of the day is hurry up and wait.
Dependent on the number of people in a bracket, a child can wrestle from four to as many as 10 matches in the day. The time between matches is spent resting, playing computer games, watching portable DVD or eating. This can be a delicious snack that mom (also half asleep) prepared and is in the ice chest or some gourmet treat from the snack bar.
When it is about five matches before your turn, you get up and begin to stretch and warm up - then it is time for your game face. You walk to the scorer's table, check in, put your ankle color on, shake hands, and wait with a million things going through your head all at one time, anticipating the whistle of the referee and the command "WRESTLE."
Mike Flynn is president of the Slammer Wrestling Club, a nonprofit organization that is sanctioned by USA Wrestling. The club goal is to provide kids an affordable opportunity to learn the fundamentals of wrestling and sportsmanship and the value of hard work. Volunteer coaches, administrators and parents run the club.
The club is dual-focused, offering wrestling for those kids who want to experience wrestling and pursue the sport on a recreational basis. It also maintains a competitive aspect. There is one national champion, one all-American, several regional champions and more than 15 state champions that are currently in our program.
The cost to support one wrestler is considerable. Equipment alone runs about $200 per child. The average wrestler will spend about $1,000 a year in transportation, lodging, and tournament fees. The Slammers competitive wrestlers average spending about $2,500.