Wrestling gains foothold in Liberty Hill
By LAUREN JETTE
When the Liberty Hill Youth Football season wrapped up in October, Kevin Jones and some other parents of players were looking for something for their kids to do during the offseason when they heard about LCP Wrestling.
After earning a number of medals in wrestling meets across the state, Liberty Hill can boast a pretty impressive team of young wrestlers, who hope to one day compete in the purple and gold of the Liberty Hill Panthers.
“It helps me in other sports and keeps me in shape,” said Kyler Jones, 7 1/2.
“It makes me stronger!” said Waylon New, 5.
“I enjoy competing one on one,” said Kolton New, 7.
Other competitors enjoy the challenge wrestling presents.
“When you get pinned,” said Daniel Lorance, 9, “it’s hard to get out of.”
It’s a challenge each meet “to face someone that can match your strength or skill,” said Jed Lapuszynski, 13, whose brother Jarod, 10, also competes in the sport.
The boys compete with Leander-Cedar Park Wrestling club that practices three days a week at Leander High School during the wrestling season, which starts in November and ends in February.
LCP Wrestling has about 30 kids from ages 5 to 13 registered for the current season and is led by head coach Chris Lynch, who took over for the club founder in 2010, about the time his youngest son was old enough to compete in wrestling.
“I love the sport. I grew up in New York and I’ve wrestled from the time I was four years old and I’ve wrestled all the way through high school,” Lynch said.
“I’ve wrestled a little bit in college, did some competitions after high school and college and I’ve always tried to stay active in it.”
Lynch now shares his love for the sport with kids from all over the surrounding area, and most go on to compete at the high school level, he said.
“Wrestling is a sport where when you get to the high school level, it’s very much a team sport. Down here at the youth level, while all these kids wrestle on a team and we come together and practice and we get as many kids as we can to go to the different meets and competitions, when they get out there on the mat, they are out there as an individual,” Lynch explained.
“Their team can cheer for them, but it’s them by themselves against their opponent and it’s a very physical sport. It’s challenging for kids who have never been in that position. It can help them in many different ways, it can help them in sports, it can help them in life, or it can help them in school.
It’s challenging to put yourself out there by yourself and compete one on one against your opponent.”
One benefit to the sport is that wrestlers compete with other kids closer to their size and age during meets.
“We have rookie, novice and open divisions, which are also broken down into age groups, which are then further down broken into weight classes. The age groups run every two years, and it goes from 5 to 15,” Lynch said.
“The rookie division is considered your first year wrestler. The novice division is considered your two-year wrestler and the open division is your three-years and beyond.”
While it might seem like a large age group to teach wrestling to, Lynch said the coaching is tailored to each wrestler’s ability, regardless of age.
“It just depends on the individual,” he said.
“For the most part, we teach them a couple of individual takedowns, a couple of turns from being in the top position and a couple of ways to escape and we just keep working that over and over and as they pick it up and we see that they are advancing, we add more stuff in.
“And that really goes for all levels, as much as 5-years-old, as 9, as 13. Some kids pick it up faster than others.”
Wrestling is not an easy sport by any means, but it really is a simple sport, Lynch added.
“Every kid is different, and every kid picks it up differently. Some kids have what we consider a natural ability to be able to wrestle. They are quick on their feet, they know their body position and they have a strong center core and it’s just something that comes natural to them, so teaching them the different moves and stuff like that is not difficult, while other kids, we just stick to basic moves.
“And that’s one of the things that’s funny about wrestling is you start out learning the basics and you basically end wrestling the basics, because most of your high-level competition, you don’t see a whole bunch of fancy stuff in wrestling. It’s really simple, basic moves that win Division I NCAA titles, win Olympic matches, stuff like that.”
Lynch has seen the sport slowly growing in popularity over the years, especially in the Austin area, in part due to coverage of Olympic wrestling.
“It gets popular I think with the Olympics and what was going on with the Olympics,” Lynch said.
“It kind of made people more aware of the sport here in Texas, which is primarily a football state, so wrestling is building.
“I think we’re building good relationships with people involved with football,” he added. “I know a lot of people in Liberty Hill are involved with football and they like wrestling. They think it ties in well with their sport. The coaches that I work with over here are football coaches, but they enjoy the program and how it can tie in and help their players perform and stuff like that.”
“Kyler is a very energetic. He is a sweet kid, but aggressive in nature. Wrestling has given him a positive outlet for his energy and aggressiveness,” Jones said.
“Wrestling teaches discipline and respect for others, so he’s learning how to use his aggressiveness appropriately. Wrestling has also been a great tool for preparing him for other sports and life in general. It has strengthened his core, improved his balance and agility, and made his whole body stronger. It has also helped him to develop mental toughness. He is learning how to overcome obstacles and how to train even when he is tired and doesn’t feel like it.”
Right now, Liberty Hill High School does not have a wrestling team.
“It is up to each individual school to chose which activities they will offer,” UIL Media Coordinator Kate Y. Hector said in an email to The Independent.
After Liberty Hill’s most recent district enrollment number submitted to UIL in October fell just shy of the cutoff number for the 5A classification.
The parents of these wrestlers are hoping Liberty Hill will begin planning to offer a wrestling program soon, especially with the school looking like it will move into the 5A classification in the next UIL realignment in 2018.
“As LHISD continues to increase in enrollment, I hope to see the district continue to add programs that larger schools in the Austin area offer,” Jones said.
“High schools in Leander ISD, Austin ISD, Round Rock ISD, Georgetown ISD and Pflugerville ISD for example, all offer wrestling.”
According to information provided by Hector, wrestling was added as a UIL-sanctioned sport in 1999, and began with one conference. A second conference was added in 2013 because of the increase in participation.
In that first year wrestling was offered, 148 schools offered boys wrestling with 1,638 students participating, while 77 schools offered girls wrestling with 432 students participating.
Since then, the numbers in high school wrestling have increased greatly.
In the 2014-15 school year, 281 schools offered boys wrestling with 11,139 participants, and 259 schools offered girls wrestling and 3,977 participants.
While most of those schools fall in the 5A or 6A classification, a handful of that number are schools below the 5A classification.
“Wrestling is a sport that boys and girls of all sizes, natural ability, and economic status have a chance to compete in, while learning the valuable lessons that competition teaches,” Jones said.
“As more and more Liberty Hill kids get involved, it would be a shame for their careers to end at the club level, not having the opportunity to compete for a state championship.”
Liberty Hill Athletic Director Jerry Vance said the school will eventually add the sport, but probably not as quickly as parents might want, due to all the factors that go into adding a sport to an athletic program.
“You have to buy the equipment, you have to buy the mats, you have to find a wrestling coach, which you have to have a teaching field for, so you have to increase the staff, you have to have a place to put the mat, where to wrestle, so all of those things have to be taken into account. It’s not an overnight thing,” Vance said.
“Will we add it? I think we will, sooner or later. It’s been my experience that you never add something fast enough for parents. We’re not going to add something just to add it. We want to be successful at what we do.”
“I do believe that Liberty Hill parents will soon look at wrestling, a physical sport with very few injuries, as yet another beneficial opportunity for their children,” Jones said.
It just may be a few more years before young wrestlers can continue their career in the purple and gold.