Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

March 14, 2013

Elementary wrestling fosters confidence, growth

Nick Gonnella
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — At the conclusion of the Greensburg Elementary Wrestling Program’s season-ending event Tuesday night, several young wrestlers were actively working to roll up long mats they used during the City Tournament.

Mike Wenning, a state-champion wrestler for Greensburg in 1976 as a senior, liked what he saw from the participants.

“They participate in everything,” said Wenning. “They take ownership of their program. They participate in every area and level of the program.”

The benefits of the Greensburg Elementary Wrestling Program (GEW) have been evident recently, but the seeds of its development were planted decades ago. Wenning said he wanted to give back what he himself had been given, instead of losing those gifts and traits by holding them back.

Wenning mentored children from the first through sixth grades while running the YMCA wrestling program from 1990 to 1994. At that time, the program contained 22 wrestlers.

“It took over from there, and I continued to be involved,” he said of later contributing to the GEW.

Jamie Cain, who took over GEW two years ago, contacted Wenning to join him and other volunteers and help build the program back up.

“If we want to get some numbers, it has to start with the program,” said Wenning. “It has to start right here.”

Volunteers like Matt Cochran, the high school’s varsity wrestling coach, are hopeful that wrestlers continue to participate into their junior high and high school years.

Wenning emphasized that GEW starts with the youth.

“These kids have a lot of potential,” he said. “We know there’s a great future. That’s what the program is all about.”

The program’s volunteer coaches, referees and officials have worked with youth to foster self esteem, responsibility and a positive attitude. When he sees a young wrestler who is upset or discouraged, Wenning often encourages them by pointing out his own success despite his short stature.

“‘I’m little like you,’” Wenning would tell them. “‘Look what I did’....I give them hope and encouragement.”

Ever since he took over the program two years ago, Jamie Cain has been striving to teach the attributes of respect, honesty, discipline and dedication.

Dr. Dennis Goldberg, former superintendent of Greensburg Schools, started the program 10 years ago.

“Since then, we’ve had tremendous support from the community,” said Wenning.

Cochran said that while the program can benefit the junior high and high school wrestling programs, he envisions the program helping youth develop positive character traits.

“It is essential to have a long-term youth program for the success of the program,” said Cochran, “but the character traits of this sport can be so valuable to build lifelong skills that can be learned. My primary goal is to give a positive experience - not just to win, but to be the best they can be...for young kids to get introduced to and like it, to enjoy it.”

According to Cain, the program consists of a junior division for third graders and lower, and a senior division for fourth and fifth graders. The number of wrestlers has grown to 72 after about three dozen participated last year.

“It’s pretty awesome with this turnout,” said Cain. “We make sure that they are having fun.”

Although he called Cain the heart of the program, Wenning credited his former classmates that have also stepped up to help foster the program, including Tom Horan, Steve Butz, and the Reid and Hahn families.

“Jamie is the heart, and all of us coaches and refs are the blood,” he said. “We are what helps to keep the heart going. I feel that way, and everybody else feels that way. This wrestling program is like a tight-knit family. We stand up for each other, we support each other, and sometimes we cry with each other.”

Along with fostering honor, spirit and loyalty, Wenning noted the program also emphasizes success in school.

“We require that they do well in school,” he said. “We have not had one bad kid in the program.”

Wenning said that the sport of wrestling is for everybody.

“It’s a sport that everybody can get involved in,” he said. “A true wrestler will stay true to his sport.”

Contact Nick Gonnella at (812) 663-3111, x7003.