Fun is Fundamental for Wrestling Club
Youngsters from Canton, Plymouth get head start on rigors of grappling.
The road to reaching the 'pin'nacle in the sport of wrestling is paved with hard work, sweat and commitment.
Thanks to the Plymouth Canton Wrestling Club, fun is also a large part of the equation for the area's up-and-coming grapplers.
Ray Cushman, the club's director, is well aware that persevering in one of the more rugged sports around won't be possible for most of the elementary school-aged wrestlers unless the right teaching approach is applied.
"Our No. 1 goal is to make it fun for the kids," said Cushman, who has coached at the club level for the past seven years. "There's a lot of hard work involved, but if it's not fun, the kids aren't going to stick with it.
"For example, we end every practice with a game. If we don't, the kids revolt," Cushman joked, smiling.
No. 2 on the club's priority list is helping the participants develop a passion for the sport, Cushman said.
Success often follows passion.
"This club is critical for developing the local high school programs," Cushman said. "Jeremy Henderson, who won a state title for Salem five years ago, only had about 150 career matches because he wrestled in the days before there was a youth wrestling club and before they added middle school wrestling. Now, there are freshmen wrestling for the local high school teams who have 400 matches under their belt. It makes a big difference."
With 225 members, the Plymouth Canton Wrestling Club is the largest-sanctioned youth wrestling club in Michigan. Numbers are up dramatically just since last year when each of the Park's three high schools' youth programs unified to become one.
"There was some contention between the three clubs, so the school district encouraged us to unify," Cushman said. "It's worked out really well. The beauty of it is that there all three schools are still represented by coaches."
Wrestlers between the ages of 4 and 7 practice on Mondays and Wednesdays from 6-7 p.m. in the Salem High School wrestling room. Kids between the ages of 8 and 14 train on Mondays and Wednesdays from 7-8:30 p.m. at Salem.
Participants who qualify for the advanced level work out Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6-8 p.m. at Plymouth High School.
The practices lead up to weekend competitions hosted by the Michigan Youth Wrestling Association (MYWA).
"We don't force the competition part of it," Cushman said. "But we find that after a while, the kids usually get the bug to compete in at least a few tournaments."
The participants' skill set grows at a steady pace throughout the season, Cushman stressed.
"The reality of wrestling is that there is no short-cut to success," he said. "We try to teach a few moves and technique every week. By the end of the season, each wrestler will have learned around 60 moves."
Cushman said the club's $75 annual fee, which includes a MYWA membership, is incredibly cost-effective thanks in large part to the cooperation extended from Park administrator Bill Zolkowski, a former collegiate wrestler at the University of Michigan.
"Bill has really done a lot to help us keep our costs down," said Cushman. "Having come from a wrestling background, he really understands the value of an outstanding youth wrestling program."
Cushman oversees the beginning and intermediate levels while Jeff Hardin is in charge of the advanced wrestlers.
Cushman stressed that it is never too late to register a child for the club.
"If a parent wants to bring a kid to a practice to try it out, we won't charge them," said Cushman.
For more information on the Plymouth Canton Wrestling Club, call Cushman at (248) 797-5805.