Gifted grapplers: Boy and girl wrestlers’ progress ‘fulfilling to see’

Brodi Austin, 6, wrestled with her four-year-old brother Spencer during practice last Tuesday evening. The pair come over from Holland to participate in Southridge Wrestling Crew. Photos by Matt Crane.

Huntingburg — Local youth wrestlers are getting an early jolt with Southridge Wrestling Crew. 

Drew Songer, a volunteer and wrestler from the class of 2010 Southridge alumnus, is helping usher in these future boy and girl wrestling Raiders. He is one of several former wrestlers helping Crew coach Dan Rauscher, also a former Raider grappler, with the up-and-coming wrestlers as part of the program.

“It’s fulfilling to see whenever something clicks,” Songer, a former Wabash College competitor, said. “It doesn’t click right away for the little kids in particular because they are still getting their coordination, getting their feet underneath them, learning how to use their hands, things of that nature.” 

Before his prep days with former Southridge coach Dave Schank in his corner for three sectional championships, the blue-collar mentality was ingrained on the second floor of the high school on the mat. 

He and varsity coach Kurt Collins said the hankering for grappling is a growing trend for girls. And girls’ participation is ascending as this side moves toward a sanctioned sport. In the Southridge program, Collins said there is a trio of girls on the mat in high school and around five at the middle school level.

For both genders, Collins said it boils down to learning how to take it on the chin sometimes, physically and metaphorically.  

“I want to see (kids) do good not just in wrestling; I want to see them do good in life,” Collins said. “That’s the thing I love about wrestling. Wrestling is the one sport I believe will prepare you for the punch in the face that life has to offer. Everybody’s been kicked in the teeth when they get out on their own. I think this sport prepares people for that.” 

For girls, wrestling has been added as an emerging sport en route to an eventual Indiana High School Athletic Association state tourney. Under the current status, girls compete in a regional and state tourney at the Indiana High School Girls Wrestling, at Franklin, on Jan. 6 and Mooresville, on Jan. 13.

“When I was younger, there were maybe a few girls that would wrestle,” Songer said. “But it was very rare. Even in high school, I don’t really think there were any girls in high school. Now, it’s interesting that there seems to be much more interest in it. I think also the prospect of there being a girls’ team is part of that.”

A pair of 10-year-olds, Ella Menke and Kynlei Beard, are friends who decided to step on the mat and compete with the boys.

“Those two, in particular, I was working with them (on Tuesday), walking through finishing across the body,” Songer said. “As opposed to just going straight across the body, and they were picking up on that pretty easy, which is good. You just want to see that people are hearing what you are saying, and they are responding to it.”

Brelyn Schwinghamer, 6, grappled with Bexli Britain, 5, during practice last Tuesday evening. The younger wrestlers were working through a far knee, far ankle takedown from the referee position. Bexli’s father, Todd, was helping the girls and a few of the boys nearby during the practice.

Menke, a Holland Elementary student, said she embraces showing she can go toe-to-toe with the opposite gender; she likened it to competing with her nine boy cousins.

Beard, who is at Huntingburg Elementary, was eager to join Menke as they paired off for a large portion of an hour-and-a-half training session. She said her inaugural tidbits have been learning the nuances of the moves.  

Rauscher said it comes down to teaching them how to use their bodies and reach their overall potential. “It’s good to see them come up here to build balance and coordination,” he said. “We do wrestle, it is a wrestling practice, but I’d say less than a third of our time is spent actually drilling moves and doing something specific toward wrestling.”

These tumblers start with this program as early as age four and can continue through fifth grade. Some of these competitors juggle basketball, too, during the winter, practicing four nights a week between the two sports.

“At this age, it can work out where they do both sports,” Rauscher said. “Hopefully, it continues to work like that because multi-sport athletes are better than someone who focuses on one sport, year-round.”

The “well-oiled machine,” as Collins describes Crew, is a springboard for kids in the community. Senior Reid Schroeder, a state qualifier the past two years, will wrestle for Army starting next year, and junior Maddox Vernon was developed in the program.   

Additionally, it’s trailblazing avenues that traditionally weren’t there for girls.

Brelyn Schwinghamer watched intently as volunteer coaches Todd Britain and Brad Schwinghamer demonstrated the takedown during practice last Thursday evening.

“As far as the girls, it just seems typically that girls (mature) sooner,” Collins said. “Everybody says a girl matures earlier. Girls pay attention better; they want to please you a little bit more. Boys don’t care. They are wild and crazy, and they want to run around and wrestle around. They don’t really want to learn to wrestle right.” 

This could lead to strong future female competitors in the burgeoning Southridge girls’ program.

“The girls come in and bring maturity even at 6, 7, 8 years old. They pay attention. They ask smart questions. They really want to learn,” Collins added. “That’s neat. It’s moments like that with a young person that really keeps you coming back and wanting to do this. I love it.”

Upcoming event Tuesday evening at Southridge.