With the VHSL state wrestling tournament in Fairfax last weekend, and several local wrestlers making a good accounting, the high school wrestling season has finally ended for the year. But for those who are also members of the Williamsburg Wrestling Club, the year is only beginning.
The WWC, which begins its spring session in March, will involve wrestlers from 6th to 12th-grade, including many of the wrestlers from each of the four local high schools. According to head coach Brandon Waltrip, that’s one of the club’s big selling points.
“With the high school season ending, a lot of these wrestlers want to step up their training in the offseason, maybe do a few spring tournaments,” he said. “It takes a lot of time and hard work to be good at a sport, especially at the high school level, so just because the season is over, it doesn’t mean they can stop working, and until recently, there hasn’t been an opportunity for local wrestlers to practice or compete year round.”
Waltrip, who operates a law office in Williamsburg, noticed that lack of opportunity for the first time after working as an assistant wrestling coach at Warhill High School.
So he created the Outlaw Wrestling Club, which was open to high-school aged wrestlers year round. After taking over the Williamsburg Wrestling Club last year, which previously served as a youth program for kids from kindergarten through middle school, he merged the two, creating Williamsburg’s first year-round youth wrestling club.
“Before the program, it wasn’t uncommon to see some of these high school kids going to year-round programs in Richmond or Virginia Beach to train during the offseason, so having the opportunity to do that locally for the first time has made a difference for a lot of these wrestlers,” said Waltrip.
Waltrip talked about several club members he’s watched improve over the past year alone.
“James Miller at Warhill, after a mediocre record last season, he reached the finals of multiple tournaments this year and is in the top 5 in the state for 4A Division. Jordan Robins, a Lafayette wrestler, he previously had to go to Richmond for practice in the off-season, he’s grown leaps and bounds over the past year. All but two or three of the local wrestlers that qualified for the VHSL State Wrestling tournament, they were members of the WWC.”
One of the biggest sources to these successes is that the coaches from all four local high schools are involved with the WCC. Scott Lish, wrestling coach at Warhill High School, assists at the Williamsburg Wrestling Club in the offseason, and he says year round-wrestling is critical to giving local wrestlers the competitive edge they need.
“Areas around here like New Kent, York County, they have clubs that these high school kids can compete in, while a lot of our guys used to have to go to Richmond or Norfolk for that same experience,” said Lish. “Having a place locally where our wrestlers can practice in the off-season, get that same edge, it’s done our kids good.”
While it may seem odd to an outsider that coaches who compete during the school year come together during the off-season, Lish says that its no surprise because the kids come first.
“Of course, we still try to beat each other during the season, but we’re all friends, and anything we can do to help these kids, we do it,” said Lish. “We’re a little community here, we all want these kids to do better, to get more time on the mat, and the WWC has just been an all-around positive experience.”
Richard Pennycuff, the head wrestling coach at Jamestown High School, also lends a hand at WWC, and agrees with Lish that the club makes an impact on local wrestlers.
“It's tremendously important, it gives the opportunity to perfect your skill as a wrestler, which is critical at the high school level,” said Pennycuff. “Wrestling is like any other skill, the more you do it, the better you get, and the more mat time you have, the better wrestler you become.”
Pennycuff cited Cameron Hagen and Matthew Landreneau as two Jamestown High wrestlers who competed in States last weekend who are WWC members in the offseason.
“We have 10 guys on our team who also wrestle year-round, we had a great season this year, and it will be great to see how that extra mat time and practice they get with the club will impact their performance next year,” said Pennycuff. “What the kids do at the club, and what it does to give our kids a place to do this and support wrestling culture locally, it makes a difference, and I’m happy to support it.”
With that level of support, the WWC has grown much larger over the past year since the merger, from 30 kids in last year’s spring program to 45 kids this year. The K-8th grade youth program grow from 42 kids to 59 kids.
During the spring, there are a number of tournaments across the state WWC members will be competing in, and one of the club’s long term goals is that by this time next year, the club will be taking wrestlers to compete in tournaments outside of Virginia.
“We’ve done everything we can to elevate wrestling in Williamsburg, but we also try to make a difference in these kids lives,” said Waltrip. “We let them practice year-round, but we also get the little kids prepared to compete at the high school level, we prepare the older ones for college, we even have some kids from Warhill who are wrestling in college now are coming back to work with them later this year, tell them how they made that journey.”
It’s a journey that Waltrip knows personally: he wrestled at Jamestown and Lafayette for two years each, before going on to attend the Virginia Military Institute on a wrestling scholarship. That the WWC could have a similar impact on a new generation of wrestlers, as well as passing on a love of the sport, is the best he could hope from the club.
“I probably wouldn’t have made it to college without help from my wrestling coaches, and the sport has had a huge impact on my life,” said Waltrip. “If the club can have a similar impact on kids here, that what it’s all about, and what every coach wants most.”
Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.