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Mat Rats place in Iron Man Tournament
Andrew Houghton took gold in Greco-Roman, third in free style and folk style at the Iron Man Wrestling Tournament. Hunter Wilson took second in Greco-Roman free style. Gavin Landin took third in all free style and Greco-Roman. Weston Owen took second in free style. And Mason Wells took second in free style and first in Greco-Roman. - photo by By Patty Leon / Coastal Courier
The Liberty Mat Rats wrestling team went to Orange Park, Fla., on April 5 to compete in the 2008 Iron Man Wrestling Tournament. Coach Philip Howe took 8 of his young wrestlers and 5 came back with medals.
“The Iron Man is a tournament where the competitors must compete in all three divisions of folk style, free style and Greco-Roman,” the coach explained. “The goal is to try and win every weight class in your division and then you win an Iron Man trophy as well. But even if you don’t win the Iron Man trophy you could win a medal for placing either first, second or third in each division.”
Howe said there were 450 kids in the tournament and 150 per division.
“Andrew (Houghton) had the most dominating performance and he placed in every division,” Howe said. “He won the Greco-Roman, got second in free style and third in folk style. We took Gavin (Landin) down and it was his first tournament ever. He received third place in free style and Greco-Roman. It was an awesome tournament and a huge turnout.”
The Mat Rats’ success in the last 9 out of 10 tournaments has the wrestling parents excited over the young program.
“I think it’s great,” Michael Wilson, Hunter’s father, said. “He wrestled in Missouri before we came here and he was ranked sixth in the state. The coaching here with Philip is outstanding and it matches with a lot of the things he learned in Missouri. He’s learned a lot more in the four weeks he’s been here and it’s an outstanding group of guys working out here with these kids.
Wilson said while he was deployed in Iraq his wife, Tora, had to drive to Savannah every two days for wrestling.
“Before we found the Mat Rats my wife drove him to Savannah,” he said. “But it was so different, more for recreation than for competition, that Hunter didn’t want to be a part of it anymore. He didn’t want to wrestle. He came here, and the way Philip runs things it was like night and day. Liberty County literally needs to make this bigger than it is. He is doing a lot with so little.”
Wilson is not alone.
“We really enjoy watching him,” Walter Landin said about his son Gavin. “I was so proud he medalled and to see him achieve something. He is more confident, especially in any athletic aspect that he tries. He is more of a team player and has a team attitude than when he started. I would like to see this grow and be placed in the high schools. To have something other than football would be great and it would benefit the football teams as well because wrestling is a good way to stay strong and conditioned during the off-season.”
Howe hopes the wrestling program grows. He has taken the first step by forming a non-profit organization called Coastal Athletic Association. He hopes to have everything ready to launch by June to begin fundraising.
“We have only one mat right now and sometimes the older kids are being slowed down by the younger kids,” Amanda Foster, Houghton’s mother, said. “If we had more than one mat we could separate them by age or ability. You can get scholarships through wrestling and Andrew has already expressed his interest in taking this as far as he can. He enjoys it, I don’t have to make him come to practice he is ready for it.”
Most of the parents say their children have benefited from the Mat Rats.
“Mason stared wrestling when the Mat Rats started in August of 2007.” Travis Wells, Mason’s dad and volunteer coach, said. “We were actually looking for a wrestling program when we found out this one was forming in our area, sort of being at the right place at the right time. I think he has come a long way. When he started he came in weighing 145 and he weighs 126 right now. He’s lost some weight, toned up and his spirits have risen. Not only on the mat but at home and school as well. I’m trying to learn wrestling myself and the coach needed some assistance and I signed on to help. The quality time we have together is irreplaceable.”
“Before the Mat Rats and didn’t know a lot about wrestling,” Foster confessed. “I thought of the WWE and didn’t really appreciate that they were giving lessons here. My other son Ryan started first and I watched him. Andrew said he wanted to do it. Knowing about the true sport now I’m very proud of them. They are doing very well as a team, despite being only 9-10 months old. At least 5 or 6 wrestlers medal each time they go out. But we need better funding to get a better facility and some more equipment.
The Mat Rats are deciding which tournament to compete in next.
“We have to wrestle in at least 3 tournaments in Georgia otherwise we will not qualify to wrestle in a regional tournament,” the coach said. “All the Georgia tournaments are held in Atlanta.”

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