Program tries to build for future
When Tom Jones took over as coach of the Whetstone High School wrestling team in 2007, there was no youth feeder program and he had to spend a significant amount of time teaching basic techniques.
The following year, the 2003 Whetstone graduate began encouraging area boys to get involved with the sport through Columbus Wrestling Club, which has been a chartered member of USA Wrestling -- the governing body of amateur wrestling in the U.S. -- since 1996. CWC is open to boys and girls in grades K-12.
In 2011, Jones and his former high school coach, Kevin Schlosser, started their own youth program, Whetstone Wrestling Club.
Even though WWC was founded to enhance the abilities of future members of Whetstone's high school program, it is not restricted to student-athletes who are or will be attending Whetstone or any other City League school, for that matter.
"It's open year-round and to anybody willing to put in the time," Jones said. "Our door is always open. We've got kids from Olentangy, Westerville, Hamilton Township, Grove City, Hilliard, Worthington, Columbus and even a few from as far away as Zanesville.
"Our first goal is to get all these kids involved, excited about the sport and prepare them for their futures. The second goal is to strengthen high school wrestling, not only at Whetstone, but in the City League and in the Central District."
According to Jones, WWC was ranked third of 454 youth club teams in Ohio for the winter season, which ended March 17.
"That ranking is based on points gained throughout the season in all divisions," he said. "There are five divisions. Division I is kids in kindergarten and first grade, Division II is grades 2-4, Division III is fifth grade, Division IV is sixth grade and then there is junior high.
"We don't have as many kids as a lot of those clubs, so for us to be ranked third was quite an accomplishment. It speaks to the job that coaches like Kevin Schlosser, Rick Litler and Travis Bucklew Sr. have done, as well as others who volunteer."
WWC had 10 members compete in the Ohio Athletic Committee Youth State Championships held March 15-17 in Youngstown. Braylon Hilliard was the only placer, going 3-3 and finishing sixth at 55 pounds in Division I.
Also competing at state were Tristan Bluntschly (2-2 at 75 pounds, Division III), Travis Bucklew Jr. (1-2 at 45, Division I), Isaiah Hilliard (0-2 at 75, Division II), Jake Nelson (1-2 at 100, Division III), Andrew Oarwood (0-2 at 75, Division II), Jonathan Thomas Oarwood (0-2 at 140, Division IV), Jeremiah Ragan (0-2 at 50, Division II), Edgar Ramirez (1-2 at 90, Division III) and Zack Trublood (0-2 at 115, Division III).
The WWC members who did not qualify for state competed in the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department Columbus City Championships on March 16 at Whetstone Recreation Center. WWC won the City title by 25 points over runner-up Mifflin.
Because the City League doesn't offer junior high wrestling, many of the student-athletes who come out for wrestling in high school have limited experience and knowledge as freshmen.
"It is 100 percent absolutely a disadvantage to City League teams that there is no junior high school wrestling," Schlosser said. "You've got kids entering their high school careers as freshmen who sometimes have only four weeks of practice and they're competing against suburban schools which have kids who often have 10 years of experience.
"Columbus City Schools is the largest school district in Ohio, and the only wrestlers coming from here who reach and place at state have trained elsewhere, whether that's through a club or more than likely they transferred into the district after competing elsewhere."
Bucklew Sr., a 2007 Whetstone graduate who placed third at 125 in the City League meet as a senior, believes that youth programs like WWC play an important role in helping wrestlers prepare for the competition they will face in high school.
"I was fortunate enough to be involved in a youth program at Buckeye Valley, so I knew the basics when I got to high school," Bucklew Sr. said. "These coaches spend the first month teaching the basics, so it's tough.
"As a wrestler, I wanted to give back and get my son early experience. That's why I'm helping coach Jones and coach Schlosser. It's pretty neat that (Schlosser) coached (Jones) and (Jones) coached me, so I'm just passing (information) along and hopefully we can keep something good going."