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Prep wrestling: Trinity puts SCV back on mat

Trinity Classical Academy fields the Santa Clarita Valley’s first wrestling team since the 1970s

Posted: December 19, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: December 19, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Trinity Classical Academy's wrestling team, back row from left, Head coach Chris Leigh, Dakota Prochnow, Erik Ohl and Michael Nasrallah. Front row from left, Kasey Klar, Joey Ceglia, Jordan Thomas, John Nichols and Dave Prochnow. It's the area's first wrestling team in nearly 35 years.

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A group of no more than eight kids grab and slap and pull toward the back of a mixed martial arts gymnasium and training center.

Kids go head-to-head, literally, like two rams butting horns.

Occasionally an onlooker will come over and ask what the kids are doing.

“Wrestling,” Chris Leigh says he will tell them.
“Wrestling? In this valley? There isn’t wrestling in this valley,” Leigh says they’ll reply.

As he tells the story, a half-snarl, half-grin grows on his face.

Then he says what his usual reply is.

“There wasn’t,” he says then pauses, pounding his right fist into the palm of his left hand. “But there is now.”

Trinity Classical Academy is the first Santa Clarita Valley school to have a wrestling team since the William S. Hart Union High School District had the sport in the late 1970s.

A coaching shortage led to the elimination of the sport at the prep level in the SCV.

Leigh was eager to start it up at Trinity.

The former high school wrestler says he approached Trinity’s administration year after year to try and get it to add the sport.

The growing school has been eager to improve its athletic experience, but it’s a small school of more than 400 students — kindergarten through 12th grade.

There were questions.

Was there an interest level?

How much was it going to cost?

Where were the kids going to wrestle?

Leigh was persistent and passionate and got his wish this summer when the school OK’d the wrestling team.

“I heard about it. I was going to play basketball. Then I heard about it on Knights News,” says freshman Jordan Thomas on getting word about the sport through the school’s daily announcement. “I thought, ‘Wrestling’s cool, I want to try that.’”

It’s a similar story all around.

There were 10 kids on the team.

That got whittled down to eight.

None of the eight have any wrestling experience.

Senior Dakota Prochnow, an All-CIF baseball and football player, says he had to learn from scratch.

But he was lucky, and so is the fledgling program.

His father, Dave, wrestled for eight years from his youth days and through high school and into adulthood.

Dave is an assistant coach for the team.

“We never talked about it too much,” Dakota says of the sport. “Other sports help (with athleticism), but I was going in blind. It’s different from other sports. You have to use your whole body.”

Yet Prochnow wrote a paper last year during his AP language and composition class on how the school needs the sport. The assignment was on what should be changed about the school.

There was a quiet movement to get wrestling back in the Hart District schools in the latter part of the last decade.

That came at a time when budget cuts would not allow for the addition of another sport in the Hart District.

Leigh is a wrestling enthusiast who played the sport in the Philippines and even wrestled in a tournament in Japan.

He says the talk of “cost” is exaggerated with wrestling and that there’s little reason why the valley can’t have more teams.

“I don’t see how it’s possible,” Leigh says of the sport being too expensive. “The obvious comparison is to football, but the up-front cost for our kids is $300. The average mat costs between $1,600 and $2,000 and that’s a one-time cost. You might need two of them. Then the questions is where do you store them. If you have room, you have room. Then you need a scale that’s $20 and shoes are $35-40.”

Trinity benefits from practice space at Big John McCarthy’s Ultimate Training Academy.

Obviously there are transportation costs, though, and other incidentals, but Leigh argues that wrestling provides kids something that most sports don’t.

“You get a sense of who you are. You come into wrestling and learn how to use strength to achieve victory,” Leigh says. “But you get a sense of yourself. On the mat, you’re on your own. It helps you with confidence. You develop a mental toughness that makes you unafraid of the daily challenges of life.”

And for one freshman on the team, Jordan Thomas, it’s a way for him to stay in shape and better himself in another sport.

Thomas says wrestling will make him a better tackler in football.

“The physical aspect is OK, but the mental aspect is totally different,” Thomas says. “The grabbing someone in wrestling is harder than just tackling someone.”

He adds about what he knew of the sport coming in: “I knew you can’t kick and punch.”

After almost a month of practice, the kids know much more than that.

That leads to Thursday.

Trinity will head to Canoga Park to Faith Baptist School for the first wrestling meet for an SCV prep team in nearly 35 years.

John Nichols, Erik Ohl, Joey Ceglia, Jordan Thomas, Donny MacAdam, Kasey Klar, Dakota Prochnow and Michael Nasrallah.

Those are the names of the eight wrestlers.

The small private Christian school will meet Faith three times this year and hopefully add a tournament.

The goals are to keep the program running and in true Trinity fashion, aspire to be a top wrestling program.

Leigh is passionate about the sport.

He talks about how wrestling turns boys into men and he uses a Bible verse to demonstrate how.

Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

His athlete Thomas says he used to walk through the campus of Trinity Classical Academy as a junior high student and see Leigh, who teaches at the school.

Thomas would greet him by a title.

Leigh would give him a reply.

These days, Thomas greets him by another title and gets a different reply.

“A couple of years ago, I’d say, ‘Hi Mr. Leigh,’ and he’d say ‘Hi Jordan,’” says Thomas. “Now I say, ‘Hi Coach,’ and his face lights up because of how proud he is to have a wrestling team.”

A wrestling team in the SCV.

Imagine that.


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