At a time when some schools are cutting back on activities, Journey Middle School is increasing its athletic offerings.
The school added wrestling to its roster this winter.
So far, more than 40 kids have tried the sport out in a small multi-purpose room at the school, and eight students have taken the next step to wrestling competitively.
“Sooke seems to have that scrappy energy. A lot of Sooke kids seem to be looking for a niche and want to do something different,” said coach Conor Hart.
The sport is a rarity among Greater Victoria schools, where wrestling is not a major sport.
Wrestling became a thing at Journey when Hart and fellow teacher Jess Federici, both high-level wrestlers in university, joined forces to create the team.
It started last year with a few borrowed mats from Sooke Martial Arts, but they were inadequate for wrestling. The duo finally discovered wrestling mats from the 1994 Commonwealth Games stored at Esquimalt High.
“Suddenly, all the stars aligned,” said Federici, who is also a coach on the team.
Wrestling was introduced to the school’s student when Hart challenged co-worker Dan Sulzen to an exhibition match in the school gymnasium, with Federici refereeing.
The match was hyped for more than three weeks and the gym was packed for the event.
Success wasn’t immediate, though. Only four kids showed up the next day to try out wrestling, but those numbers increased over the next several weeks.
Federici estimates more than 40 students have at least tried out the sport, and 16 of those attend regularly. Seven wrestle competitively.
Success has come early for the team. Late last year, the team sent four athletes to a tournament in Duncan. Two of the students brought home medals.
Next year Hart and Federici hope to expand the wrestling program by opening it up to the community. The program would both in-school and after school sessions.
“EMCS (Edward Milne Community School) doesn’t have a wrestling program, and we don’t want to work here with the kids to see it fizzle out in Grade 9,” Federici said.
“We want to see it keep growing.”
Hart and Federici hopes the team can attend more tournament this year – it’s so far only competed at two – with the eye in the future to producing provincially-competitive athletes.
“We won’t let them compete if they’re not going to feel happy with themselves at the end of the day. “We’ll only put them in tournaments if they’re ready,” Federici said.
Journey Middle School wrestling coaches Conor Hart and Jess Federici say the sport bring many positives to an athlete’s life.
They list them as confidence, perseverance and humility.
“I haven’t come across anything tougher in sports,” said Federici, who wrestled at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby.
“It’s physically and mentally a real demanding sport, and I’ve run marathons, played field hockey and soccer.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Hart, who studied at the University of Calgary and wrestled for the Dinos.
“There is no flashiness to it. It’s two people the same size, wearing the same gear and they go at each other … and you win or lose based on your skill, confidence and sometimes luck,” he said.