The Columbus North youth wrestling program is in its first year with a competitive duals team, and the youth wrestlers already are gaining experience.
North’s youth program has about 52 kids total that compete at the intramural level, and they have competed in multiple dual tournaments against teams from as far away as Kentucky. The youth program will be one of 16 teams traveling to Beech Grove High School on Jan. 14 for the Indiana Wrestling League Championships.
The duals competition includes kindergarten through sixth-graders and has 17 weight classes starting at 40 pounds and going up to 175 pounds.
“The (first year of competitive duals) has been good,” youth director Justin Ratliff said. “I think the kids have grown a lot more into wrestling. I’m always big on seeing how you stack up against competition from other schools because you can only learn so much within an intramural program.”
Ratliff said he has witnessed a big improvement from the youth wrestlers from where they were in October. The youth program starts competing in the Columbus Youth Wrestling Intramural League from October until mid-December while the competitive duals are going on from November to January.
Ratliff said January is almost like a new season for them because that’s when the individual tournaments start with the Indiana State Wrestling Association. The ISWA will be hosting a state tournament the second week of March for youth wrestling teams. The state association tournament is all folkstyle wrestling, which is the same style the junior-high and high-school level athletes compete at. The Columbus North youth program also competes in freestyle wrestling.
Ratliff said the dual tournaments are harder competition than the individual tournaments because the individual ones break up the divisions by two-year increments. The dual tournaments are strictly by weight class no matter the age or experience.
“If you have fifth-graders that are small for their age, that’s awesome,” Ratliff said. “If you’re big for your age, you might have your work cut out for you because you might be a second-grader wrestling fifth-graders.”
Most of the kids in the program are first- or second-year wrestlers, so many of them are still learning the ropes. Ratliff said getting kids interested in wrestling at a young age is important for athletes looking to continue it through high school.
“Wrestling nationally has been developing at the younger ages for many years now,” Ratliff said. “Now, if you don’t have a huge feeder program, most of the time it’s a crutch down the road as a high school program … When you get kids wrestling in junior high for the first time and your kids are going up against kids that have been wrestling since they were preschoolers, then they’re going to be three or four moves behind them. You can just see it.”
Ratliff’s 10-year-old son Asher and his 6-year-old daughter Olivia both wrestle in North’s youth program.
With three brothers, Olivia said she is used to wrestling boys and wants to continue wrestling at least until she is in the sixth grade. Asher plans on continuing as he gets into high school, and figures competing in the elementary duals is a good place to start.
“It’s been fun,” Asher said.
Indiana Wrestling League Championships
Where: Beech Grove High School
Day: Jan. 14
Time: 8 a.m.
Number of teams: 16
Area team: Columbus North Elementary Duals
Coaches: Justin Ratliff, Mike Anderson, Andrew Douglas, Duwayne Hutt, Zack Metz, Ethan Ott, Adam Theobald, Jeff Tobias, Brennen Todd and Francisco Colon.