Good wrestling begins with a solid foundation. In the literal sense, it means establishing and maintaining a sturdy stance to gain leverage. Figuratively, fundamental instruction at a young age can build outstanding wrestlers.
Two nights a week, in the gym at Owen Middle School, the Grove Stone Wrestling Club is creating wrestlers by teaching the sport to children in the Swannanoa Valley.
Last year was the first for the club, started by head coach David Avila. The goal of the team, which practices from 5-7 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays at the school and is free, is to introduce children to the sport in a fun, instructional environment.
Avila created the club to establish a program for local children who were interested in the sport. The club was then known as the Grove Stone Gravel Monsters, a nod to its primary sponsor, nearby Grove Stone & Sand.
"The kids didn't like the Gravel Monsters name so much, so we changed it to 'Grove Stone Wrestling Club,' and everyone seems happy with that," he said during practice March 1.
At its first practice of the season Feb. 20, the team welcomed back many of the wrestlers from last year's squad. New faces were there as well.
"We got a lot of new kids," Avila said. "A lot of them are younger, which is great, because hopefully we can get them interested in the sport, and they can eventually wrestle for our middle school and high school teams."
That's exactly what happened with Jason Dash, who joined the club last year at the urging of his father. Dash, who was in the sixth grade at the time, had never wrestled before, but he caught on quickly.
He joined the wrestling team at Owen Middle School as a seventh grader this year and was nothing short of dominant, according to Warcolts coach Dwight Shelton, who just finished his fourth season with the program.
"He was 15-1 for us in the 138-pound weight class," Shelton said of Dash. "He won the (French Broad Middle School Conference). He didn't give up a single point in the conference tournament."
Avila, who served as an assistant coach on the middle school team, was thrilled to see Dash's progress.
"Kids are sponges, they'll take in whatever you give them," Avila said. "Jason was here for every practice last (club) season and that's huge. That says a lot about his determination to be a good wrestler. I was very proud of him."
As he looks back on it, Dash was a little surprised by his performance this season. The time he spent with the club last year was valuable, he said.
"I did well because of all of the practice I did here," he said. That effort came full circle when he clinched the conference championship in the same gym the club wrestles in.
"He let out a loud yell when he won," Shelton said. "That was fun to see from a guy who is normally quiet, but I think it felt good for him to win it here where he's put in so much work."
The wrestling club team participates in travel tournaments throughout the region, and will likely go to four or five of them this year, Avila said. Practices are light, but fast-paced. Wrestlers feel comfortable trying new techniques.
"We want them to make learning the sport fun for them," Avila said. "Last week we worked on a move called the duck under, and I had them quack every time they ducked."
The environment makes the club suitable for kids from grades 3-12, Avila added.
After seeing his brother Jason's success in the sport, Logan Dash decided to join the club this year. Like Jason, Logan is in the sixth grade and plans to wrestle for the Warcolts next season.
Also like Jason, Logan is a gifted athlete, according to Shelton.
"They're both intense on the mat and strong," he said. "They're also really good kids who want to be coached and do everything we ask them."
Shelton added that he looks forward to Logan joining his brother on the middle school team next year.
"I love wrestling," Logan said of his favorite thing about the sport so far. "I really just like all of it."
It's that kind of response that Avila likes to hear from the 15-30 wrestlers who show up at practice and participate in theclub, which focuses heavily on the fundamentals of the sport.
"From the beginning, the biggest thing we teach them is stance and position," Avila said. "And to always remember to turn to the mat on your chest on not on your back. If we can get them to understand those things early, then we're building the base for solid wrestlers."