At LRUHS: Wrestling returns after 20-year hiatus

Josh Roberts slams teammate Logan Dolloff to the mat.  Photos by David Dudley

Josh Roberts slams teammate Logan Dolloff to the mat. Photos by David Dudley

copyright the Chronicle January 14, 2015

by David Dudley

For the first time in nearly 20 years, Lake Region Union High School (LRUHS) has a wrestling team. Coach Trevor Roberts of Coventry established the team in early December 2014. Since then, the team has practiced most weekdays from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Although Lake Region competes with other school teams in tournaments, there will be an evaluation period of three years before the school board determines whether or not wrestling will become a school sanctioned sport.

In the meantime, Coach Roberts is doing what he does best. He’s teaching his wrestlers to love the sport, train their hardest, and respect their opponents. He’s also spreading the word, trying to recruit new members to join the team.

On a Thursday afternoon, just after sundown, four young wrestlers gathered in the cafeteria. They neatly removed the tables from their places, lining them up along the perimeter of the room. They unrolled the mats — which are burgundy with baby blue circles — in the center of the room.

Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” played on someone’s iPod. Though it was warm inside the cafeteria, the wrestlers sported sweaters, hats, and hoods. Beneath their sweaters were other layers of clothing.   Those layers aren’t to protect them from the cold. They’re to encourage heat, so wrestlers can lose weight.

“Each wrestler has a preferred weight class,” Coach Roberts said. “It doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but it can be really hard to win against a guy who weighs ten or 15 pounds more than you. So we’re always trying to stay in the weight class where we can do our best.”

Coach Roberts’ younger brother Josh Roberts, a freshman at Lake Region, wrestles in the 120-pound class. Like his older brother, Josh Roberts believes wrestling is a lifestyle.

John Stafford (top) tries to prevent teammate Kaleb Gibson from getting up off the mat.  Stafford was charged with keeping his hands on Gibson's back while running in circles.

John Stafford (top) tries to prevent teammate Kaleb Gibson from getting up off the mat. Stafford was charged with keeping his hands on Gibson’s back while running in circles.

“We’ve both been doing it since we were in kindergarten,” he said. “It feels like I’ve been doing it my whole life. I love it.”

Coach Roberts didn’t waste any time in prompting his wrestlers to begin a grueling round of conditioning.

They begin lightly, with jumping jacks. Josh Roberts leads fellow teammates Logan Dolloff, Kaleb Gibson, and John Stafford.

He marks each jumping jack they do: “One, two, three!”

“One,” the group chimed in.

“One, two, three,” Josh Roberts continued.

“Two,” the group responded.

After completing a count of 15, or, 45 in total, they transitioned into a series of stretches and resistance exercises meant to build strength and to condition the mind to withstand pain.

“Wrestling is just as much mental as it is physical,” Coach Roberts said. “Your success in tournaments depends upon how far you’re willing to go in training.”

Therein lies one of the benefits of wrestling. Many wrestlers are in tip-top shape due to their intense workouts. Many working adults pay to work with trainers to whip them into shape. But for these wrestlers, it’s simply part of a strict daily routine.

“The conditioning is difficult,” Gibson said. “But it gives you a feeling of accomplishment, to come in here every day. You feel healthier. You feel better about yourself.”

Since joining the team, Gibson has shed 30 pounds. Stafford has shed upwards of 40 pounds.

They follow weight training with knee walks, rolls, and cartwheels across the mats. Then Coach Roberts orders each wrestler to take a teammate up on his back, and carry said teammate from one end of the mat to the other.

“I can’t carry Dolloff,” Roberts complained.

“Don’t say that you can’t,” his brother said. “I don’t ever want to hear you say you can’t.”

With that, Roberts lifted Dolloff up onto his shoulders and began walking slowly across the mat.

Coach Roberts teaches his wrestlers a new move each week. A former wrestler at North Country Union High School, where he graduated in 2013, he was invited to the New Englands twice. He won several tournaments and was the captain of his team from his freshman year straight through graduation.

He’s generous with his experience and expertise, demonstrating each move for his team. Then they pair off to practice the move in a controlled manner, often working through each individual step to get the feel of the move.

Once they have the hang of it, they progress to live wrestling, wherein they put their new moves into practice with those they’ve already mastered.

It appears chaotic, all those bodies entwined on the mat. But they are working hard to try and gain the upper hand over their opponents.

Gibson and Stafford were locked up. Gibson was on top.

“You’ve got to roll out of that, Stafford,” Coach Roberts said. A drop of sweat fell from Stafford’s forehead and plopped on the mat.

A few feet away, Roberts and Dolloff were struggling with one another. Though they were both lying on the mat, Roberts clearly had the upper hand. But Dolloff struggled mightily, using whatever moves he knew, and whatever strength he possessed, to try and outdo the more experienced Roberts.

Coach Roberts watched on, contemplatively. He carefully considered each wrestler’s movements before pointing out the mistakes each made, and he offered suggestions on how to improve.

Trevor Roberts (left) weighs his younger brother, Josh Roberts, after practice.

Trevor Roberts (left) weighs his younger brother, Josh Roberts, after practice.

Simply being in the circle, competing, compels each wrestler to keep calm under pressure. Though a great deal of emphasis is placed on training, wrestlers have to remain supple enough to react in the moment to whatever their opponent is doing. Each wrestler must also contend with himself.

“Time,” Coach Roberts called out.

In this case, time indicated a one-minute respite in which the wrestlers guzzled water while standing as still as possible. They were all beet red, breathing heavily. After the break, Coach Roberts called for more live wrestling.

“Can’t we finish by doing some running?” Roberts asked.

“Oh, we’ll do that, too,” Coach Roberts replied, soliciting groans.

“I’m surprised I haven’t puked yet,” Roberts said, before returning to the mat.

They rounded out their routine with “suicide drills,” where each wrestler runs to and from progressively farther points on the mat. The force of each pivot caused the mat to slide across the cafeteria’s tiled floor. Coach Roberts threw in a devilish task for good measure. Each runner, as he reached the far end of the mat, had to drop and do bicycle crunches for 30 seconds.

“This is where it counts,” the coach said. “This is the mental part. How far can you push yourself? How much are you willing to push yourself in order to win?”

But, as Coach Roberts explained, it’s not all about winning. It’s about respect.

“If you go out onto that mat, at some point, you’re going to lose,” he said. “You’ve got to remember that you aren’t just representing yourself out there. You’re representing your teammates and your school.

“You can’t even set foot on that mat until you respect your opponent. And you can’t respect your opponent until you learn to respect yourself.”

At the end of the practice, each wrestler took off his clothes before stepping onto the scale. There was pride on their faces as they saw how much weight they had lost during the workout.

After the wrestlers had gone to take showers, another young man entered the cafeteria to speak to coach Roberts about joining the team.

“You’ve got natural talent,” the coach said to the young man. “If you start working with us right now, you’ll be on the podium in a year.”

To be on the podium, he said, is what every wrestler is working for. That’s where the award-winning wrestlers stand at the end of tournaments. And the more wrestlers Coach Roberts can guide to the podium, the better his chances of making wrestling a mainstay at LRUHS.

contact David Dudley at [email protected]

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