Wrestling coaches use `mat time' to pin down the basics

At Play

February 21, 2007|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special to The Sun

Rick Couch and Art Saumenig came to love wrestling in different ways.

Couch wrestled at Northeast and Chesapeake high schools before competing at Salisbury University.

Saumenig turned down the Old Mill coach's attempts to recruit him, instead playing football and lacrosse. Only when his son Greg began to wrestle at age 7 did he take an interest in the sport.

Now both men coach at their alma maters and have routinely spent 15 to 20 hours per week helping recreation wrestling teams. Besides coaching, they also handle administrative work, go to three practices per week and attend weekend tournaments plus matches from November to March.

Couch and Saumenig are also the president and vice president, respectively, of the Anne Arundel County Youth Wrestling program. They balance their volunteering with full-time jobs: Couch runs a landscaping and tree business, and Saumenig is a crew leader for BGE.

"I love the sport - that's just it," said Couch, who has worked as a recreation coach for about 20 years, most recently running the Chesapeake team. "I love helping kids, and I'm hoping to help them love this sport. To me, this is the greatest sport out there."

Saumenig, who has nine years' experience and is the commissioner of the Old Mill program, has gleaned much of his information from watching his son at practices and meets. Last weekend, Greg Saumenig won the Anne Arundel County High School championship, wrestling for Old Mill in the 125-pound class.

"I just wanted to educate myself so that when my son was wrestling, I wouldn't be an ignorant person," Saumenig said. "I think the parents or spectators who want to get into [the sport] ... should learn about it."

So he did, eventually helping restart the Old Mill Junior Patriots recreation team with Jim Grim about six years ago and once again making it a strong feeder for the high school team.

"When I went there and started watching, I fell in love with the sport," Saumenig said. "One of my greatest regrets is that I didn't wrestle in high school."

Recreation wrestling is different from sports like basketball or baseball, where a child has to be taught to throw and catch.

Wrestlers have to be taught hundreds of moves, Couch said, and those moves have to be put to use in practice and competition regularly.

"It's about mat time; it's not about practice time," Couch said. "You have to get these kids on the mat and let them wrestle. They have to figure out positions."

But they need coaches to come in early or stay late, teaching those often-complex positions - which requires patience from coaches' families. Couch is starting to bring his young sons, ages 4 and 6, to matches.

He is teaching them about the sport, and his wife is learning the lingo, too. Saumenig has had to cut his time this year because of a shoulder injury he suffered at work last year. However, he is getting plenty of chances to work with his team.

Bel Air High School will compete against Anne Arundel teams at this weekend's high school regional meet at Chesapeake.

The coach for the Harford County squad, Craig Reddish, said he appreciates what Anne Arundel programs - with 24 teams, many with 50 wrestlers - have become, and how they have helped public school teams stay strong.

"It means everything" to the high schools, Reddish said. "I don't think there's a successful high school program that doesn't really have a quality feeder program."

Josh Rauch, an athletic supervisor for the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks, said wrestling coaches like Couch and Saumenig give from their hearts.

"They all put in a great deal of time, not only with us. They all do tournaments every chance they get," Rauch said. "If their [teams] are not wrestling here, they're wrestling somewhere."

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