It's a cool summer evening at the Linden Recreation Center where people are taking time out of their day to enjoy the weather. One way or another, the people there are taking it easy, except for those inside the center itself.
It's a cool summer evening at the Linden Recreation Center where people are taking time out of their day to enjoy the weather. As some sit on park benches talking, kids play on the playground and the North East Falcons youth football team begins fitting its players with equipment. One way or another, the people there are taking it easy, except for those inside the center itself.
Inside there is a group of 20 youth wrestlers sparring with such fervor that it would be hard to distinguish this routine practice from a mid-winter tournament. As the kids continue to wrestle, Brian Church shouts out advice and takes mental notes on the progress he's seeing in each of the kids.
It's just another typical Wednesday practice for Church and the rest of the members of the Beat the Streets wrestling program, which will conclude its summer schedule by competing Saturday and Sunday at the Ohio State Fair.
The Beat the Streets program will enter its second year in Columbus after Church helped launch the national program in its first Ohio city last fall. Originally from New York City, the Beat the Streets program is aimed at providing wrestling opportunities to kids who would otherwise not have the chance to participate in the sport. In affiliation with the Columbus Wrestling Club and USA Wrestling, the Beat the Streets program is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that offers free equipment and coaching for anybody under the age of 18 interested in wrestling.
"Our mission is to promote and grow wrestling in Columbus and within the Columbus Public School system where wrestling isn't available for a lot of kids unless they do it at the high school level," Church said. "By starting the youth program, it gives them an opportunity to learn the sport of wrestling and find a sport they can enjoy. It also gives them experience in the sport so they can choose to do it in high school and they've already learned some fundamentals to be successful.
"Another reason we started it was to give the kids something positive to do with their time, something where they can develop goals, motivation and self-discipline. This gives the kids something positive to occupy their time and to learn leadership and life skills with the ultimate goal being for the kids to become leaders within the community. We're trying to attain that through sport."
Part of the reason Church has such an interest in developing wrestling in Columbus is he is a former two-time district-placer for Beechcroft High School. He wrestled for West Liberty (W.Va.) State College and went on to compete in Olympic qualifiers and win the 126-weight class at the USA Wrestling senior nationals. He also has coached at the prep level at Delaware and Marion-Franklin as well as with the USA National team.
"I'd like to see us have more participation, have a lot more kids involved, and we'd like to provide some wrestling opportunities for the seventh and eighth grade population," Church said. "That will make wrestling stronger in the City League as well."
Because the program is free and reaches out to everybody, Church saw an interesting mix of wrestlers that participated in the program last year. The group of 25 came from all areas of town, with some, such as Ben Davis, having a lot of prior wrestling experience, while others had none.
Davis, a 112-pounder, is entering his junior year at Johnstown and is one of the few wrestlers who entered the program with varsity wrestling experience. He said the program provides him with the opportunity to stay busy during the summer.
"I enjoy it because it's fun and it's something to do during the summer," Davis said. "You learn a lot more about the sport as well. It's good because they teach you takedowns, how to stand, what the points are and stuff like that."
Having such a difference in ages, weight classes and experience levels could make it difficult for Church and fellow coach Brian Edison, but the two say it is not an issue.
"Wrestling for kids who have never been involved is a whole new world really because you have to teach them so much and sometimes they tend not to focus so much on all the small details," Edison said. "So you kind of have to reinforce it over and over. But once they do grasp it, it becomes a lot easier for them."
Michael Taylor, who competes at 130 pounds for Brookhaven, is one of those inexperienced wrestlers.
Taylor, who also plays football and basketball, has been with the program for just a few weeks now, but has enjoyed the experience.
"I like the action of wrestling," Taylor said. "Before this I only ever wrestled with my brother. I want to get better, and I want to get a (tournament medal) some day."
Brian Layman Jr., a 10-year-old 90-pounder who attends Hamilton Elementary, agreed with Taylor. Layman already has won two medals but said he's looking for more.
"We put a lot of effort into this," he said. "I want to get more medals and hopefully get a lot of awards."
During the winter, members of the program get the opportunity to compete for the Columbus Cyclones in the Central Ohio Buckeye Youth Wrestling Association (COBYWA), which pits them against competition from some of the top teams like Dublin, Grove City, Marysville, Upper Arlington and Worthington. Those programs have existed for years and have more coaching, more resources and more members than the Cyclones. To ensure their wrestlers get the opportunity to wrestle against similarly-skilled opponents, coaches of the youth programs will meet for as many as three hours before a tournament is scheduled to start, discussing the various experience levels of the kids. Last winter in its first season of competition, the Cyclones saw plenty of high finishes at all the tournaments.
"We had some wrestlers that won first place frequently," Church said. "Some of the kids went on and participated in larger meets that were sponsored by state organizations. And we even had some kids that competed in the Arnold Sports Festival."
In addition to regular practices and tournaments and competitions, the Beat the Streets program is also a part of wrestling clinics. The latest one, which was held in May, was highlighted by the appearance of Ohio State wrestlers J.D. Bergman and two-time NCAA Division I national champion J Jaggers as well as Shawn Bunch, a former Edinboro University wrestler who was a four-time NCAA qualifier and current Powell resident. The collegiate wrestlers spoke to kids as well as showing them different techniques.
Chad Nelson, Layman's father, said the teaching environment involved with the program provides a good structure for the kids to learn.
"They're strict here because they want them to succeed in life and wrestling," Nelson said. "I'd like to see the program grow and get more kids involved in it, especially kids from different areas."
Local tournaments cost money and running a free program can be difficult, though Church said he never asks the parents for monetary assistance because he doesn't believe in that. Church is more interested in getting the kids into and involved with the program, and hopefully spreading that interest to more areas of the city.
"My hope is to increase the numbers and have more kids take advantage of the program," Church said. "That way it will be more widespread instead of working in one or two regions of Columbus."
"The most rewarding part is to see the kids stay focused on something," Edison said, "and also to see kids who have natural athletic abilities go on and compete and really have success. It's a great thing. The reality is that no matter what background you have, if you work hard enough, you can accomplish great things."
With coach Brian Edison watching, Justin Holdren battles Bubby Foston during a practice session for the Beat the Streets program.