Wrestling club promises boost for Southern High

At play

December 13, 2006|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special to The Sun

Chris Knapp got a surprise when he and his son arrived at the United Youth Club's first wrestling practice last year at Southern High School.

Only five children were in the gym. The wrestling club had been virtually inactive for several years.

"I thought something [could] be done," Knapp said.

So he did something, starting by unofficially coaching the small team last year and this fall becoming the program's commissioner.

Today, Knapp said, 17 kids are registered and practicing at Southern, in Harwood. The team will compete in the county wrestling league's B Division with other less experienced groups.

But Knapp doesn't care much about wins and losses in this season's matches and tournaments, which begin in January. Right now, he's simply trying to lay a foundation for the program.

"My logic is: Have fun and learn fundamentals at first," Knapp said. "Then we'll get into the meat and potatoes, which will work out good for us because the whole month of December we'll be able to practice."

Wrestling is a difficult sport to learn. Competitors have to be taught a large number of takedowns, escapes and other moves on the mat and how and when to use them. Weigh-ins determine the classification the athlete will wrestle in.

Knapp, a Long Island, N.Y., native who moved to Maryland about five years ago, knows all this firsthand. He began wrestling at age 4 and competed at Bay Shore High School on Long Island. Knapp is now a special education teacher at Four Seasons Elementary in Gambrills.

His 10-year-old son, C.J., is on the team, and other parents and members of the local wrestling community appreciate the kick-start he's given the program. They predicted it will help the short-handed Southern High program. Recreation wrestling programs are a critical feeder system for high school teams.

"I believe it will take a few years, but I believe that, in the long run, it will help build the Southern program," said Art Saumenig, commissioner of the league's coaches association and an assistant coach with the long-successful Old Mill High School wrestling program.

"It helps when you have kids come in with the knowledge of the skills and what it takes to be a high school wrestler," said Joshua Roach, a county Department of Recreation and Parks sports supervisor. "I usually equate it to basketball. You don't have to teach a kid how to dribble on the first day."

Southern High athletic director Ted Gott agreed, saying that UYC's growth now will pay dividends later.

"We're really looking forward to trying to get more kids into wrestling in this area," Gott said.

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