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Greater Victoria wrestling program rebuilding after quiet years

Starting in November two students won 1st place at the Island Championships in February

After a dormant period, high school wrestling is being revived in Greater Victoria in a portable behind a Saanich school.

Starting in November last year, students from schools from all three districts in Greater Victoria have been practising at Spectrum Community School, with some going on to participate in the Island championships, with great success. First-time wrestler Beatrice Carnell, a Grade 11 student at Mount Douglas Secondary, won the most outstanding female wrestler award. Jack Pye, a Grade 10 Royal Bay Secondary School student, won first place in his age group – with the male team finishing second overall on the Island.

“He must be a good coach if he can get a first-time wrestler to win,” said Carnell, who also does jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, boxing and mixed martial arts.

“It’s been kind of a little wonky because of COVID. But we’ve had two competitions before the Island championships, which is not a lot, especially for a team where 90 per cent of the wrestlers are beginners. And yet, we went from sort of an entirely green team to having Island champions,” said coach Steve Rennalls.

The Greater Victoria area once had a number of high-level athletes competing in wrestling, coached by Ed Ashmore, that went on to compete in the Olympics. But Rennalls said once Ashmore retired, wrestling in Greater Victoria petered out.

Rennalls, who won national university wrestling championships himself, helped start the Victoria Wrestling Club in 2018, run out of Zuma Ultimate Martial Arts in Victoria. Students could come and train with the club and then represent their school at competitions. But working outside of the schools made it tricky to get kids interested in taking part, said Rennalls.

“It’s challenging because it is an unusual sport. It’s not something people watch on TV typically or get exposed to. However, with the rise of Mixed Martial Arts, we’re seeing a lot of kids who have a sense of what wrestling is, having watched UFC and now want to try it themselves.”

A change in job allowed Rennalls to start practices at 3:30 rather than 5 p.m. and space opened up in a portable behind Spectrum Community School. Along with Rachel Trebilco, a teacher from Esquimalt, they have been coaching up to 20 kids.

Currently, space is limited. They’re training on a mat that’s 30x20 feet, far smaller than the regulation 40x40. But students have been fundraising to purchase a standard matt, and soon the students will be training in the school cafeteria, which should help get more people interested in the sport. Rennalls hopes to establish a program where students can reach national and international competitions, but also be open to people at any level. For the team as a whole, he is eyeing the Island championship trophy.

“We’re coming for that trophy, it’s going to be ours.”

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