Youth wrestling program continues to growJohn Elias fondly remembers the days 15 years ago when the Cloquet Area Youth Wrestling Association (CAYWA) began with about a dozen kids. They practiced in a locker room with mats spread wall to wall, at an old car dealership, and even the hockey shelter without heat. Saturday marked how far things have come since then.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
CLOQUET – John Elias fondly remembers the days 15 years ago when the Cloquet Area Youth Wrestling Association (CAYWA) began with about a dozen kids. They practiced in a locker room with mats spread wall to wall, at an old car dealership, and even the hockey shelter without heat.
Saturday marked how far things have come since then.
With hundreds of youngsters dressed in wrestling gear from head to toe, more than 200 wrestlers packed the high school gymnasium for the Annual Cloquet Area Youth Wrestling Tournament. The always-popular event has been going on for half a dozen years now. As usual, kids were buzzing around everywhere.
“They get pretty pumped up for this,” said Elias, head coach of the youth wrestling program. “It’s all about getting kids to participate in an activity.”
Elias founded the youth program with his wife, Nancy, and Greg Oakes. Things started small, but have grown fairly quickly. From a dozen kids initially, the numbers are now around 120.
“It used to just be an after-school program for kids,” said John Elias. “But now it’s much more than that. It’s come a long way, it really has. And we’ve gotten a lot of support.”
Support has come from all angles. From parents, coaches and simply everyday helpers, volunteers have been the centerpiece to the program’s vast growth. For proof, just look at Saturday’s event.
According to CAYWA treasurer Dave Erickson, more than 200 wrestlers competed in 500-plus matches on nine mats in just about four hours. Volunteers made it happen. Everyone from coaches, parents and referees recorded registrations, served concessions, scored matches and took part with the hoopla that occurred, as well as their clothing and food drives earlier in the week.
“It’s much more than just wrestling,” said Elias. “A lot of people help out.”
“It’s all for the kids,” said Erickson, who along with his wife, Julie, has been involved with CAYWA for seven years now. “It’s quick, it’s fast and it’s intense. People are yelling and screaming and in about three minutes, everyone’s exhausted.”
Erickson mentioned that their open tournament format – available for anyone ages pre-kindergarten to eighth grade – is very common. Over any given weekend, one is happening somewhere.
“We go to a lot of these,” he said. “But it’s cool because we go to theirs and other areas come to ours. It’s a lot of work, be we get so much help. It’s great and very exciting.”
Julie, the tournament organizer, agreed with her husband.
“It’s something where the kids can compete and everyone can participate,” she said. “It really is a neat atmosphere. It’s a busy day, but it’s something that Dave and I enjoy and look forward to. This is something special. I know it’s the highlight of our year.”
Elias explained that kids began registration – which cost just $10 – for the tournament in the morning hours, while competition started around 10 a.m. or so. Kids battled their way through the brackets, and truly, everyone was a winner. Every participant got a trophy.
“It doesn’t matter what the trophy says,” Elias said, “because all that hard work goes with them to school on
For Churchill first-grader Geneveve Fonoti, her trophy went with all of the rest of hers.
“I play baseball too, I have a bunch of trophies,” said the 7-year-old who won her age bracket Saturday against the boys. “I’ve been wrestling for a bunch of days. I earned it!”
For 8-year-old Tyler Harms-Synkiew, wrestling is his sport.
“This is my fourth year,” said the 4-foot, 61-pound third-grader from Churchill. “I like wrestling because it’s kind of physical. I get pumped up for it. I want to wrestle in high school and for the Gophers someday.”
Over the years, the tournament has drawn wrestlers from the Iron Range, Wisconsin, International Falls and even Bismarck and Fargo, N.D. Saturday was no different.
The goal is the same every year.
“It’s not about taking first,” said Dave Erickson. “Whoever wants to wrestle can wrestle. And if they get a trophy or medal, those kids are on top of the world. It’s all about them.”