Club Wrestling Showcased at U.P.
Before Tuesday's match between Union Pines and Southern Lee, wrestling fans were treated to eight bouts between youth from the Copperheads and Sandhills Sand-cats wrestling clubs.
The competitors ranged from one in kindergarten to a number of middle schoolers.
"The match between the Copperheads and Sandcats is what we're really trying to do," Union Pines coach Matt Ragsdale says, "because there isn't any middle school wrestling in Moore County. You can't be competitive unless you get kids wrestling at an early age."
Ragsdale is one of a number of local wrestling enthusiasts who is trying to make the case that wrestling should be added to the sports slate at the middle schools.
"Basketball, football, volleyball, baseball and soccer players have middle school sports," he says. "I do know that 80 or so kids at New Century Middle School tried out for basketball and only 30 made it. That's 50 kids that need to be doing something else.
"Everything is in place for wrestling. We just need to take the next step forward."
Jim Ransdell is a coach for the Sandcats club that has provided a start in the sport for more than half of the current Pinecrest wrestlers. In his school days, he wrestled at 112 pounds as a senior at Pinecrest and at 119 in college at Pembroke State.
"The good thing about wrestling is that it offers something for every size of kid," he says. "It taught me a lot. That's why I'm giving back.
"I share Matt's dream of having middle school wrestling. We're working on it together."
Ransdell feels getting the opportunity to expose kids to the sport in middle school is one of the keys to its expansion locally. He hopes to combine with Pinecrest wrestling coach Qumars Shodja to hold wrestling clinics for physical education classes at West Pine and Southern Middle schools in the near future.
Ironically, the state AAU middle school championships, hosted by the Sandcats, will be held at Pinecrest's gym on Feb. 17 for the fourth year in a row. More than 300 wrestlers competed last year.
Dave Foran, coach of the Copperheads, came to this area from eastern Pennsylvania, a hotbed of youth wrestling. He says that college scholarships are abundant for wrestlers there. He loves to see youngsters like 35-pound Cole Furrie of the Copperheads get an early start.
"In our club in Nazareth (Pa.) in the late 1990s," he says, "we had over 100 kids from ages four to seven. We held our own tournaments and had traveling teams starting with the fifth graders."
For the members of the Copperheads and Sandcats, wrestling as a team at Union Pines was a new experience. Most of the time, they compete in individual competition in tournaments.
The evening provided a vision of the future when middle school wrestling becomes a reality.
"It was pretty cool," said C.J. Fernandez of the Copperheads, an eighth-grader at New Century, "because next year I'm going to be out there (with the Union Pines wrestlers)."
The Copperheads currently have eight wrestlers practicing twice a week at Union Pines, a number that will swell at the end of the high school season. About 30 are on the rolls of the more established Sandcats club.
Afterward, the Copperheads and Sandcats went to the Union Pines wrestling room and practiced against each other, most of the youngsters meeting each other for the first time.
"It's like Matt (Ragsdale) says," said Ransdell, "if you've ever wrestled, you're a member of fraternity."
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