Young wrestlers looking to improve their skills on the mat during the offseason while also experimenting with other forms of martial arts have a outlet through the Abington Area Wrestling Club.
The club, in its second year, has 14 to 16 regular participants ranging from kindergarten to ninth grade.
“We gotten more older guys to join,” Abington Heights junior high head coach Steve Peters said. “Last year, it was more kindergarten through sixth graders, now we’ve added seventh, eighth, and ninth graders into the mix and the training has become more advanced.”
Peters believes the skills learned during the offseason pay dividends during the next league season.
“A co-worker of mine, who is also a coach, says ‘during the regular season you gain one years worth of experience, and in the offseason you get two,’” Peters said. “A first-year wrestler who works out in the offseason actually has more experience than a guy that’s been around longer by the time next November comes around.”
Peters thinks branching out to other forms of fighting sparks the interest of more athletes.
“We make it fun by mixing in a little mixed martial arts and self defense,” he said. “Our training has a wrestling base and wrestling focus, but by adding the self defense and MMA, it keeps it new and exciting. As long as the kids are on the mat, that’s what we care about.
“A lot of people don’t realize how directly it all correlates. I started doing MMA with coach (James) Simrell when I was fairly young. I’ve been telling him that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for that training. It’s not only for the hardcore wrestlers, it could be for someone who wants to learn how to protect themselves or have fun with mixed martial arts. We approach it from a lot of different angles, that’s probably what separated us from other groups.”
According to Peters, there are four to six coaches at each practice, ranging from the Summit Wrestling Club, junior high coaches, former varsity wrestling coaches, Simrell, who owns a mixed martial arts studio in Clarks Summit, and coaches from other school districts in the area.
“We do a lot of techniques and live wrestling,” Peters said. “Our focus, this year, has been practicing making the best out of a bad situation. Being on our backs and scrambling out of it to get points. Basically learning to move (on the mat) and make bad situations into good ones.”
This past season, the Abington Heights junior high wrestling team won the league championship and Peters was named Coach of the Year. He hopes the experience gained through this club will lead to more success for the Abington Heights program down the road.
“Obviously, what we’re doing has a benefit,” he said.
Michael Giallorenzi, 13, has been wrestling for eight years and joined the sport because he thought it looked like a lot of fun. He had seen immediate benefits since joining the club.
“The coaches are teaching me a lot of new moves that I’ve never learned and they’re really good strength and conditioning coaches,” he said.
Mickey Farry, 14, started wrestling about five weeks ago, and already picked up a lot of new skills on the mat.
“I heard from some friends that they needed a few extra guys, so I joined to help out the team,” he said. “It’s great learning new skills for the upcoming year and you learn a lot more through the 1-on-1 training with this club. It’s been fantastic.”
The club, open to all local school districts, meets on Mondays and Wednesday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and on Fridays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Birchwood Fitness in South Abington Twp.