Breathing new life into Yukon wrestling

The Yukon's decade-long absence from wrestling mats at the Arctic Winter Games will come to an end as Whitehorse hosts the event for a sixth time this March. At least that's the plan.

The Yukon’s decade-long absence from wrestling mats at the Arctic Winter Games will come to an end as Whitehorse hosts the event for a sixth time this March.

At least that’s the plan.

The Wrestling Association of the Yukon, formed in the spring, has been working with potential athletes for a couple months and executives are confident they will have a team in place after tryouts on Jan. 28.

“What we tried to do was get as many kids as we could out to train for the Arctic Winter Games this year because it is in Whitehorse, and this is the first year that we’re trying to bring wrestling back to the Yukon,” said Jacintha Gurash, a coach and secretary/treasurer of the association.

The 2002 Arctic Winter Games was the last time Yukon fielded a team in the sport. In fact, wrestling used to be a high school sport in the Yukon until 2000 when high school teacher and wrestling club co-ordinator Bob Sharp retired.

“We had the fantastic Bob Sharp, who was the grandfather of wrestling in the Yukon, and he had a very strong high school program,” said Gurash. “Once Bob retired there wasn’t anyone else in that position to take that on so high school wrestling petered out.

“Towards the end of his career, he started bringing it to elementary schools … and it proved to be extremely popular.”

The annual Yukon Elementary Wrestling Championship, is one of the biggest tournaments of its kind in Canada, and represents the only competitive wrestling meet in the territory. In 2010, the championships hosted 400 wrestlers from 11 schools from throughout the Yukon (375 wrestlers participated in 2011.)

It is so popular that it was the inspiration for the creation of the Wrestling Association of the Yukon and the goal of putting a team in the Arctic Games.

“Seeing that enthusiasm in our elementary schools made us wonder what happens when they (graduate to high school),” said Gurash. “We’ve been feeding kids into judo clubs because for the kids who are really enthusiastic that was the next closest thing. But we’d really like to see them wrestle.

“So we had a lot discussions over the last year about how to make that happen. We know that getting coaches in all the high schools will take time. That is our ultimate goal.”

“Bob retired and I’ve been working on the department to recruit a high school teacher with a wrestling background for some time,” said Ted Hupe, principal of Holy Family School and organizer of the elementary championships. “It’s hard to find a chemistry teacher with a wrestling background or a French teacher with a wrestling background. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re trying to get the programming back into the high school, but to do that you have someone in the high school.”

The Yukon association currently has about 10 to 15 potential athletes for the Arctic Games team attending practices held at Holy Family Elementary Wednesdays, Sundays and most Saturdays.

The aim is to have a team of eight, ages 15 to 17, for the Games.

Looking further ahead, the association hopes to attend next year’s Western Canadian Championships and re-establish a Yukon Wrestling Championship for kids to adults.

In addition to the elementary championships, the association also wants to start a 10-week youth program for the younger grades “for those who are really passionate,” said Gurash.

In addition to four coaches, including one who has coached at the national level, Yukon’s Games wrestlers might get some extra instruction from a current world-class wrestler.

Watson Lake’s Brittanee Laverdure, who last month was named first-alternate for Canada’s Olympic team, has expressed interest in helping out.

“It’s the full-circle thing – you have to give back,” said Laverdure in a recent interview with the News. “I went to the Arctic Winter Games when I was a young pup. I’ve been helped so much along the way so if they want to do a camp or they need any assistance, let me know.”

For more information on practices or the Games tryouts, contact Gurash at jacintha.gurash@yesnet.yk.ca.

Contact Tom Patrick at

tomp@yukon-news.com