By Peter Wallace
@PWallaceSports on Twitter
Wrestling is a do-or-die sport, breeding that attitude in athletes and coaches alike.
That’s fortunate for the small schools dotting the Northwest Corner because, as tough as the sport is, it’s even tougher for the schools to maintain healthy programs.
Wrestling demands 100 percent dedication, weeding out pretenders, while demanding large numbers of athletes in enough sizes to fill 14 weight classes.
The combination is a killer for small schools.
Last year, area coaches and athletic rirectors resolved part of the problem.
Led by Gilbert AD Patrick Cooke, the five Berkshire League schools involved – Gilbert, Housatonic, Nonnewaug, Northwestern and Terryville – agreed to join forces with the five small NVL schools that offer programs – Derby, Holy Cross, Oxford, St. Paul and Seymour – for a meaningful postseason tournament dubbed the Berkshire-Valley Invitational.
Prior to that, dwindling numbers in the BL meant some weight class champions were crowned BL Champions after a single victory; some weight classes had no wrestlers at all.
Meanwhile, the number of NVL wrestling schools falls short of the percentage required for sanction by their league.
Shazam! The Berkshire-Valley tournament was born.
Still, the fight for survival continues.
Terryville, undefeated in the league last year, is the only area team likely to fill all 14 weight classes.
With forfeits counting the same as pins, the Kangaroos are automatic favorites even if they didn’t pile on with three returning Class S medalists after graduating two Class S Champions and a runner-up on the way to fourth place in Class S.
“We’d like to improve our Class S finish,” said veteran coach Pete Veleas in his preview response.
Thanks to the dedication of coaches and athletes, quality has never been the problem.
Nonnewaug, celebrating the 40th anniversary of its program this year, has been the gold standard for area programs for years, but still foresees problems filling the weight classes.
Housatonic, which has produced past state champions, is down to three wrestlers, only one of whom is eligible at the start of the season.
Wrestling coaches and administrators won’t let it go until they have to.
The Mountaineer wrestler will travel with Northwestern as a one-man team while the Highlanders try to build their own numbers.
Two other programs – Gilbert and Wolcott Tech – armed with quality wrestlers struggling with numbers, tried to join forces early this year only to be denied by the CIAC.
Both schools show increased participation anyway. Yellowjacket Coach Darek Schibi points to 30 more wrestlers on the way in the area youth program he helped initiate and run.
For all the struggles in matches and in programs, fans have every right to salute the athletes involved.
It’s also worth a nod to coaches and administrators who make it possible.
By Peter Wallace