Close to 80 wrestlers from three Whitehorse schools were at École Émilie-Tremblay on April 10 for the first of a handful of mini meets for the territory’s elementary school wrestlers.
Joining Émilie-Tremblay were wrestlers from Whitehorse Elementary School and Holy Family Elementary School.
Ted Hupe, principal of Holy Family and wrestling coach, said the mini meets are easier to organize and run than the much larger Yukon Schools Athletic Association’s Elementary Wrestling Championship traditionally held annually.
“We used to have a great big 500 kid tournament, but we couldn’t sustain it with volunteers and costs,” said Hupe. “We’re doing a series of mini meets where any school can say, ‘Hey, I’m willing to host.’”
With approximately 80 kids and nine mats setup for the meet, Hupe said the total number of matches was likely in the neighbourhood of 400.
“At the elementary level, your bout is about two minutes long unless it goes into a tie-breaker,” said Hupe during the meet. “We’re going so fast we’ll probably have to redistribute them again and create new bouts — new categories — just to get as much wrestling in as we can today.”
Organized by Caroline Thibault and others at Émilie-Tremblay, Hupe’s role with the meet was focused on getting students wrestling as fast as possible.
Students were quickly lined up by weight and put into groups for a series of exhibition bouts, which is where Hupe’s experience came into play.
“(Thibault) can completely run this — she’s really good,” said Hupe. “I just kind of came here and said, ‘OK, let’s get these kids wrestling fast and let’s organize them really quickly.’”
Hupe said that although young, the students are skilled wrestlers.
“The kids know what they’re doing,” said Hupe, adding that some of the schools — including Holy Family — start wrestling as early as kindergarten.
“We start at kindergarten in our phys-ed classes because it’s sanctioned rough play. We don’t want them wrestling on the playgrounds, we don’t want them fighting, and … we say this is the time you can grab kids and you can trip and you can do that rough play, but there are rules. Here is how to do it, here is where you can do it.”
Wrestling, Hupe said, has also helped curb bullying and change the dynamics between students.
“When you have kids who are bullying at school, as soon as they realize that they’re bullying smaller kids and they realize that (with) kids who are the same size, they can’t do that same sort of behaviour, this changes everything,” said Hupe.
“I know at my school it’s been very good. It’s been an equalizer and a venue for children to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t, but they’re doing it in a safe manner. We’ve got a lot of girls and boys who have benefited from this sport.”
Unfortunately wrestling beyond the elementary school level isn’t nearly as well established in the Yukon.
“We don’t have teachers or coaches that are at the high school level to build a program around,” said Hupe. “It’s unfortunate because we’ve got a history of a lot of wrestlers coming from the Yukon competing at the national level, doing well at the Arctic Winter Games, but unless we can continue this momentum at the high schools, we’re just always going to be secondary participants.”
The next mini meet is set for next week at St. Elias Community School in Haines Junction, and Hupe said two more are planned this month in Whitehorse at Holy Family and Christ the King Elementary School.
Contact John Hopkins-Hill at email@example.com