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Any room for wrestling?

There is no wrestling at the valley's high schools. Will there be any time soon?

Posted: April 9, 2008 11:50 p.m.
Updated: June 10, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Wrestling instructor Brian Peterson demonstrates a move to 6-year old Sonny Santana at Big John McCarthy's Ultimate Training academy Tuesday in Valencia. BJMUTA is one of the few places in the area where kids can learn about the sport.

He said it's now a running joke.

Paul Strickland, a board member for the William S. Hart Union High School District, said items for future consideration are brought up at the end of board meetings.

Strickland has brought up wrestling so often, it's now expected that he'll raise the issue every time.

"At the last meeting, we had a number of people there for the ratification of the teachers' agreement. Also there were people there for ROTC ... There were so many people in the room. Then many of them left ... I said, 'Well you know there's a whole group of kids and parents who want to bring back wrestling, but the room was so filled, we couldn't bring it up," Strickland joked.

But he is serious in that he wishes wrestling would be reintroduced to the valley's high schools.

It was one of the core sports at the high schools in the Santa Clarita Valley until it ceased to exist in the late 1970s.

Pete Calzia, a longtime coach in the valley and the current Hart High golf coach, recalls matches being held inside the school's cafeteria and the room being packed.

He remembers it being taken away because of a coaching shortage.

Calzia, a Hart High graduate, left the area in 1978 and coached wrestling at a high school in Idaho for six years.

He doubts that wrestling will be re-introduced at the high school level in the SCV anytime soon.

"As ASB director, we're talking officials, supervision, equipment - the way our fiscal budget is, I don't see anything being added," Calzia said.

The bottom line is, it won't be added anytime soon.

The William S. Hart Union High School District was recently told it will have to make $10.4 million in cuts.

It will not expand upon the current sports it offers, not will it add sports that are offered outside of the valley in areas as close as the San Fernando Valley - sports like water polo and wrestling most notably.

The cost to have wrestling in our high schools is inexpensive to some, expensive to others.

The most important piece of equipment is a wrestling mat.

They generally measure 38 feet by 38 feet with a 28 foot wrestling circle at the high school level.

The cost nears $10,000, which does not include storage or cleaning.

Uniforms and headgear are inexpensive, though.

But factor in the lack of experienced coaches in the area and the fact that the district, with its budget cuts, is not looking to hire in a crop of new teachers (who may have wrestling experience), wrestling has an uphill climb.

Strickland says he gets the rare mention of wrestling's absence locally.

His mentions usually don't gather much steam.

There are few places in the valley for kids to try the sport, though.

One such place is Big John McCarthy's Ultimate Training Academy in Valencia.

Brian Peterson is a trainer there. He is a newcomer to the Santa Clarita Valley.

For years, he lived in Ventura Country where he says wrestling thrives.

Peterson wrestled for Channel Islands High and has brought his expertise to BJMUTA where he teaches the sport.

He's distressed, though, that the sport has very little presence in the area.

Peterson says the sport has many benefits that so many local athletes will never learn about because it's underground in this valley.

"It really develops a strong work ethic. You really get the grasp that, 'If I work hard, I will accomplish something," he said.

Peterson says the sport has had a huge impact on his own life as it's taught him discipline and mental toughness.

He acknowledges that it is violent, but not nearly as violent as other sports, such as football.

Another benefit the sport gives those involved is it teaches them how to keep their weight-regulated, an issue with the nation's youth as nine million children over the age of six are considered obese, according to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

"To compare it, there are plenty of times when an athlete can eat McDonald's and might miss the ball and they still might win. In wrestling, you can't do that and win," Peterson said.

The 29-year-old has about 20 athletes in his class.

Of them is 12-year-old Chandler Booker.

Despite just training since Christmas, Booker has already shown a lot of potential.

He placed third at a recent tournament at John Glenn High School in Norwalk.

But Booker's father Marc knows that there will be nowhere for his son to continue his wrestling education at the high school level in the Santa Clarita Valley.

That is one reason why he's thinking about enrolling his son at Alemany in Mission Hills in a couple of years to wrestle and play football.

"Obviously academics are the first thing, but second, you might need any help you can get for (college) and if you have two things - football and wrestling - that's even better," Marc Booker said.

There is one heavy-hitter who said he would help in bringing wrestling to the area high schools - McCarthy.
The owner of the gym and former Ultimate Fighting Championship referee is dumfounded by the fact that there is no wrestling in the area high schools.

He says Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination against students and employees of educational institutions, should not be a hindrance to the sport as the popularity of wrestling is growing among females.

McCarthy suggests that the local schools offer a district team to get the ball rolling. That could then lead to the sport gaining popularity and maybe someday being made available at all district schools.

Rugby is one sport that is increasing in local popularity because it has started as a district team.
Kids have approached McCarthy, he says, about helping start the sport in local high schools.

McCarthy says he can help provide reputable coaches and steer the schools in the right direction with equipment.

"They want those things, all they need to say is we want to do it," McCarthy said.

Strickland says the district needs to gauge an interest level and the only way to do that is if the board hears from people at the meetings.

People other than himself.


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