The Greco-Roman and free-style wrestling season is under way and the Liberty County Recreation Department Mat Rats participated in their first meet at the Iron-Man Challenge in Orange Park, Fla., on April 25.
Veteran Rat Mason Wells was joined by three newcomers, Ryan Blankenship, Mitchell Terry and Tony Proulx.
The tournament offered free-style, folk-style and Greco-style matches. The Rats participated in the Saturday folk and free session.
Wells placed second in folk and fourth in free-style.
"I think I didn’t practice enough in free-style," he said.
Wells wrestled in the 136-pound, cadet division.
Rats coach Philip Howe said his wrestlers had a hard time transitioning between the styles.
"Slowing down the pace for the free-style matches and speeding the pace up for the folk-style," Howe explained. "Mason especially. He wrestled extremely well in both categories but only placed in folk-style which is what he’s been wrestling in all year. That is what he was used to doing.
"In free-style and Greco, it’s more like a chess match. You set up the action you don’t force it. In folk-style you are constantly pushed by the referees to force the action and keep the pace up. We had a hard time slowing down for the free-style portion of it."
Proulx was the youngest wrestlers amid the newbies, just turning 9. He wrestled in the 80-pound, free-style division. The coach said he did well for his first tournament.
"It was his very first match," Proulx’s father, Tony Sr., said.
He was a high school coach for eight years in Chatham County and is currently one of the Rats volunteer coaches. He said unlike high school the focus for the Rats is on learning the sport and having fun.
"Our focus here and our perspective here is for the kids to have fun. That’s the whole point of this," he said. "We discovered they have some room for improvement, but I think it was a good learning opportunity. The fact that they went out on the mat under match condition versus practice, they all learned something.
He said he wanted his son to take a shot and he did.
"He wasn’t successful at it but he did it," he said.
Blankenship placed third in free and second in folk in the school-age, 128 division.
"It was pretty cool," he said. "I liked it. It was fun. It was tough, but I guess all first wrestling matches are like that."
He’s been a rat for only a few months. He said he likes wrestling because he gets to throw people around. That is why he prefers free-style. His goal is to improve and earn a gold medal.
"I hated that I didn’t go with him," Rachel Barlow, Blankenship’s mom said. "That I missed his first tournament. But he kind of looked at it as a boys’ night out. He went with the boys. I think he gets a little more nervous if I’m there."
She said her son was already an athlete, playing football but has taken the diet and conditioning for wrestling seriously. It’s also kept him on his toes for grades. He won’t be allowed to wrestle if his grades drop.
Terry wrestled in the 136 cadet division free and folk, and placing third in free.
The 15-year-old earned the nickname Speedy-Bleedy when his nose hit an opponent’s shoulder causing it to start bleeding.
"I didn’t do as good as I thought I would do but it was my first match and I got some mat time and that is all that counts," he said. "I definitely want to get more aggressive and get out there and work harder and the take downs."
The Rats are headed to the Appalachee Free-style/Greco Tournament tomorrow in Winder. The tournament is also a national qualifier.