LAKEWOOD RANCH — Ten-year-old Hunter Reed still remembers the exact moment when he decided he wanted to wrestle.
The fifth-grader at Gene Witt Elementary School has been rolling around on the wrestling mats since he was 3 years old, but it wasn’t until Hunter saw a picture of his father, Kraig, a former high school and collegiate wrestler, back-arching another wrestler that Hunter became enamored with the sport.
“It looked like a cool sport, and it looked interesting,” Hunter said. “My dad is sort of my inspiration because I knew he used to wrestle and he knows what he’s doing.”
After seeing his father’s photo, Hunter began asking if he could wrestle, too. At first, Kraig Reed dodged the issue, knowing how much time and energy the sport requires.
“I don’t know that I ever wanted him to wrestle only because I took it seriously in high school and college and I know how much work it takes,” Kraig Reed said. “I thought, ‘I love my boy. I don’t want him to have to go through that.’”
But a year later, Kraig Reed finally gave in to his son’s persistence and enrolled him in the Manatee Kids Club, a wrestling club for elementary and middle school students designed to teach participants basic wrestling techniques and provide them with experience before they reach high school.
Earlier this year, Hunter and his father switched to the East Manatee Wrestling Kids Club, run out of Lakewood Ranch High School, to continue Hunter’s training. Mustangs wrestling coach Pat Ancil started the club two years ago, along with assistant coaches Steve Dipsiner and Mike Minardi, as a way to introduce kids to the sport early on in the hopes of preparing them for high school.
“The fun thing about little kids is that if they stick with it, you’ll see these 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds who can barely do a forward roll, and then all of a sudden it’ll click, and you’ll see them become little wrestling machines,” Dipsiner said. “It’s fun to watch. But we want them to not just be good wrestlers, but to be good people as well.”
The club, which is open to boys in grades one through eight, is held from 6-8 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays, in the Lakewood Ranch High wrestling room, 5500 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.
Those interested in participating need to obtain a USA membership card, which costs $35 for a year-long membership, and can do so online at www.themat.com. Additionally, participants need to wear shorts, a T-shirt and wrestling shoes. Headgear is optional.
Each practice begins with a basic warm up and stretching session. Participants then engage in a learning segment where they are taught a specific wrestling technique, such as a takedown, pinning a competitor or how to escape a hold, among other techniques. The wrestlers then break off into pairs and work on drills before competing in a live wrestling match.
“We try to make it as much like a real wrestling match as we can so that they have some idea what it’s like so that when they go to a tournament, they’re not surprised,” Dipsiner said.
In addition to learning from high school coaches, the kids also receive first hand knowledge of the sport and what its like to compete at the high school level from members of the Mustangs wrestling team, who spend time training and working alongside them.
“Sometimes it’s difficult because their young and it’s hard for them to learn,” junior Scott Pfalzgraf said. “I just try to help them out as much as I can and hopefully they grasp it.”
Since moving over to the East Manatee Wrestling Kids Club earlier this year, Hunter has only continued to further develop his skills. He is considered one of the most dominant wrestlers in his weight class, having won numerous local, state and national tournaments. Hunter is also a three-time National All-American.
But more than anything else the club has taught Hunter and the rest of the club’s participants the hard work and dedication that is required to be successful both on and off the mat.
“Wrestling is a very tough sport; and its very nerve-wracking going to a tournament because there’s usually a lot of people watching you wrestle,” Hunter said. “But it’s not about (anyone else). It’s usually what I can do for myself.”
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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