Wrestling heats up the gym at Owen Middle School

Grovestone Gravel Monsters growing to be a force on the mat

Fred McCormick

On a cold, rainy Thursday evening in May, the inside of the historic Owen Middle School gym was bright, busy and warm. More than a dozen kids, as young as 11, as old as high school seniors, worked on their wrestling technique.

On the floor walked by legends of the nearby high school’s athletic program, the Grovestone Gravel Monsters Wrestling Club thrives as it looks to make an impact on the sport in the Swannanoa Valley.

Members of the Grovestone Gravel Monsters wear singlets provided by the team's sponsor and namesake, Grove Stone & Sand, just down the road from where the team practices.

From 5:30-7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, David Avila, the head coach of the club, and the head coach of the program at Owen Middle, Dwight Shelton, draw from their individual experiences in Greco-Roman wrestling to build a foundation in the next generation of the sport.

Shelton is finishing his first year teaching at the middle school but coming off his third year coaching the Warcolts wrestling team. In a short period of time, he’s managed to build a successful program.

Grovestone Gravel Monsters head coach David Avila (left) and Owen Middle School head coach Dwight Shelton discuss technique with a group of wrestlers before breaking into groups on May 4.

“We ended up going 13-1 last season,” he said of the team, which he began coaching while interning at Owen Middle School as a UNC Asheville student. The team beat Enka Middle School, handing it its first defeat in five years. "We finally got it together,” Shelton said.

Shelton teamed with Avila to organize a club team that can serve as a hub for the sport locally - much needed, according to Avila.

“My son and I were traveling all the way to Enka because there wasn’t a program here,” he said (his 11-year-old son Che plans to wrestle on the Owen Middle team next year as a seventh grader). "We got to talking to the coaches here, and they said 'if we can get enough kids involved, this will work out great.'"

Che Avila and Lucian Thomas shake hands before working on wrestling drills in the gym at Owen Middle School on May 4.

The club was originally started under the name "Dark City Wrestling Club," but nearby Grove Stone & Sand (owned by Hedrick Industries) agreed to sponsor the team. Avila changed the name to reflect that.

"It was huge of them to sponsor us," Avila said. "They bought us all of the singlets we could need, so we wanted to make sure the club's name tied in, so we came up with the Grovestone Gravel Monsters."

Avila, who won a state title as a high school wrestler in Michigan, and Shelton, a product of the program at West Stokes High School in King, asked kids to put the word out about the program.

The initial response has encouraged Avila. Not only is the team drawing 15-30 kids two nights a week, but those wrestlers are also traveling to regional tournaments monthly.

"Our last tournament was in Thomasville, and that went well," Avila said. "We ended up taking 10 kids. I believe all of them placed and quite a few in first."

The two coaches hope the club attracts more wrestlers.

"It was tough having to go to another school district to wrestle, so we really want to establish something strong right here," Avila said.

Not only can the program serve as an introduction to the sport for children in the community who have yet to wrestle, it also provides valuable time on the mat for more experienced wrestlers, according to Shelton, who himself was introduced to the sport at the club level. That experience can lead to establishing and maintaining a strong wrestling culture locally, which will help at the middle school and high school level.

"We're winning in the conference at the middle school level against a lot of schools, like Enka and Erwin, that feed into 3-A high schools," Shelton said. "There's no reason we can't be competing for a 2-A state championship in a few years."