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Local wrestling clubs provide foundation for youth grapplers

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11-year-old McParland student Joe Whalen works with John Vazquez Wednesday at Manteca High.


POSTED April 16, 2009 5:15 a.m.
Following the 2007-08 high school wrestling season, East Union head coach A.J. Reindel started the Manteca Freestyle Wrestling Club for the purpose of providing area youth with an opportunity to continue wrestling in the offseason.

Encouraged by the success of the East Union-based program, Manteca head coach John Vazquez started the Manteca Grapplers Club this offseason.

Wednesday at both Manteca and East Union, both clubs were hard at work on the mat, something that both Reindel and Vazquez hope will lead to the reemergence of the sport within Manteca’s borders.

“Football has its Pop Warner, soccer has its Manteca Area Soccer League,” Vazquez said. “But wrestling (had nothing) up until a year ago when East Union started its program and now we’re starting this program. Hopefully it will bring wrestling back to Manteca as it was back in the 80’s and 90’s.

“We have to start taking it back from Oakdale.”

Although Vazquez made the remark about Oakdale with a broad smile, the partially tongue-and-cheek comment makes an important point.

For years, the City of Oakdale has developed its youth wrestlers with offseason programs and the results at the high school level are undeniable.

“It takes more than four years to learn how to wrestle, to even learn how to practice,” Reindel said. “Most of the kids are 9 to 11 years old, and by the time they get to high school, they’ll have four or five years under their belts.

“They’ll have confidence. They’ll be good. They will have already stepped on the mat, and they won’t be scared. That’s huge.”

Reindel’s program, which is also known as the Lancer youth wrestling club, has 45 students this year. High school level wrestlers practice Monday and Wednesday from 4:30 to 6 p.m., and junior high and youth grapplers take the mat from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Across town, Vazquez’s club also wrestles on Mondays and Wednesdays, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Offseason wrestling tournaments, which take place on Saturdays, are scored as freestyle, slightly different than the folkstyle scoring rules high school wrestling competes under.

Manteca freshman Jorge Sierra was one of a handful of wrestlers that fine-tuned their skills under the watchful eye of Vazquez Wednesday evening.

“I like it,” Sierra said of the club wrestling experience. “It’s a chance to learn new things, and it keeps you in shape. It definitely helps you when you’re not in season.”

Both Reindel and Vazquez have decades of experience under their belts and they both are passionate about the benefits of club wrestling.

“Manteca High had the Manteca Area Wrestling Club, and they did that for a number of years,” Reindel said. “Alex Nuanez wrestled there. Austin Soto wrestled there. Oscar Castro, a lot of Sierra guys. Benny Garcia wrestled there, so you see what I’m getting at?

“A lot of those kids started off like this and ended up being quality wrestlers as freshmen.”

This Saturday both the East Union and Manteca clubs will travel to Golden Valley High in Merced, where they’ll meet club wrestlers from Oakdale, Turlock, Ceres, Ripon, Escalon and a number of other area wrestling hotbeds.

Club wrestlers pay an annual fee of $40 for a USA Wrestling card, and tournament entry fees are $10.

“We’re a first-year program and we’re pretty small, but that’s expected,” Vazquez said. “It’s definitely going to grow with word of mouth. These guys are going to take the positive aspects of wrestling (out of season) and tell their friends, little brothers, little sisters, and we’ll get them in the gym next year.”

Reindel has already seen what word of mouth can produce, as the Lancer program is flourishing in its second year of existence.

“For the high school kids, the point is to give them that development in the off-season,” Reindel said. “But for the youth, which is the main reason why I’m involved, is to get wrestling back in Manteca the way it used to be.”
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