The Gomez Wrestling Academy team champions.

 

Young wrestlers display
their skills at bantam meet

By Ed Muniz
Photos courtesy of Ken Dado

 

As the Illinois High School Association starts its final two weekends of wrestling Feb. 20, there is still be plenty of wrestling left outside the prep ranks. The Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation begins its state series action March 1-2 with regionals at multiple sites throughout the state.

But not every youth wrestler in the state is eligible to compete in the IKWF individual championships, which have a 10-12-year-old novice division and a 12-14-year-old senior division.

The younger crowd, bantams (8-and-under) and intermediates (8-10-years old), are ineligible. Luckily, there is still an opportunity for them to be part of something special.

Eight-and-under wrestlers congregated Sunday, Feb. 16 at Bolingbrook High School to compete among the best in the state. More than 700 boys and girls from 122 clubs convened at the 2014 Illinois Bantam Championships.

Imagine the sight of 700 little people running around. The building was alive with energy. It was hard to understand how many of the competitors could battle for three minutes on the mats and still manage to sprint all over the facility.

The top 10 scorers for the Gomez Wrestling Academy.

There were 50 individual champions crowned in brackets from 37-130 pounds. The team championship was decided by .5 point. Gomez Wrestling Academy edged the host Bolingbrook Junior Raiders 219.5-219. SCN Youth, of St. Charles, was third at 182 points.

A unique aspect of the tournament was how the team score was decided. Since certain teams and clubs had many entrants, championships points were only tabulated from the top 10 scoring participants of each team.

For Gomez Wrestling Academy (GWA), the title came from its ability to win when it counted most. GWA had five finalists, Jameson Garcia, Michael DiBenedetto, Christian Favia, Alexander Marre and Tyler Guerra; each walked away with a championship
 

Tyler Guerra (top) of Gomez Wrestling Academy goes on the attack against Joey Gilatta,  of Wolfpak WC, during their 58A championship match.

For Guerra, winning and being in control throughout his 9-0 major decision was a struggle. The 58-pound, A-bracket champion looked to be on the verge of tears from start to finish.

“My arm was why,” said Guerra of the reason for his pain. “Following through my shots (hurt),  but I just kept on driving my legs and didn’t give up. I like going to the tournaments, having fun and getting to wrestle with my wrestling partner.”

Tyler feels he is strong for his size and showed it. He lifted his opponent Joe Gilatta, of Wolfpak WC, off the mat in the win.

GWA coach Hector Gomez was glad to be a part of the event and for the efforts of his wrestlers.

“This is a great opportunity for the kids of Illinois,” Gomez said. “We have so many kids and have so many weights, it gives so many kids an opportunity to win one of those brackets and belts. This is really a building process for later on.

“We do have good competition, we have the toughest state in the country and proved it. The coaching here is very passionate and the kids respond to it. This sets you up for the (IKWF) state tournament as you continue, so this tournament is a benefit.”

The Junior Raiders were one victory away from clinching the team trophy, but only managed three titles from six finalists. Rylan Breen, Josh Vasquez and Aidan Scholwin won for the hosts.
 
The Junior Raiders also claimed the “Outstanding Wrestler” award, which went to 37-pound champion Scholwin. In four bouts on the day, Scholwin pinned each opponent.

For some teams, the travel turned out to be productive. Entering just three wrestlers, King Select Wrestling (KSW), of Belleville, Ill., made the most of things. They recorded two championships and a third place finish. That earned the three-person team 75.5 points and a 21st place finish.

Mikayla Barringer (top), of King Select Wrestling, wrestles Tyler Barbee, of Rock Island, during their 49A championship bout.

One of the KSW champions was a 49-pound, pixie-voiced 8-year-old girl named Mikayla Barringer. Looking at her you would never suspect her to be a wrestler. But when she steps on the mat, it’s all business. Barringer faced Tyler Barbee, of Rock Island WC, in the finals. As she had done twice before on the day, she finished off the match with a fall.

The King Select Wrestling veteran is in her fifth year and shows every bit of it the way she manages to control the action and find ways to get out of difficult situations.

When asked about her win and what she did well, she simply said “Top and neck wrench, that’s what I do best.” Mikayla also stated she plans on winning more because she likes wrestling.

Despite closer tournaments available to his team, KSW coach Mic Barringer didn’t mind the drive.

“The competition is why we come,” he said. “Down south you wrestle the same kids over and over and over for the state. So you know where you lie in the south. Here you see some of the best kids in your age and weight; you just get some of the better competition.”

Traveling for the Barringers is nothing new.

“For us, we go as far as Tennessee; Tulsa, Okla., to wrestle,” the coach said. “For us, being a girl, we definitely want to see where we stand so it’s just one of those things.”

Barringer explained that he has 30-to-40 girls wrestle every Friday night in his club. He plans to continue coaching girls, who represent a growing segment of the sport.

King Select Wrestling also had Caleb Scott grab a champions belt when he defeated Landon Dooley, of Pontiac WC, 4-1. Bryson Bode finished third the 52A weight with his win pin of Ty Edwards, of Yorkville.

SCN Youth WC also had its share of contenders and won three belts in five title bouts. William Hupke defeated Aaron Meenen by fall for the 49D title; Drew Surges defeated Ricky Ericksen of Mustang WC, 7-3. Jack Lesher defeated Junior Raider Keith Whitaker at 79B. Lesher was quick to open the scoring in his finals match, taking down Whitaker quickly. After a reversal to start the second, Whitaker couldn’t manage to kickstart his attack and succombed to a fall soon afterwards.

Jack Lesher (right), of SCN Youth WC, snags the leg of the Bolingbrook Junior Raiders Keith Whitaker during their 79B championship match.

“I felt real good,” said the freckled champion. Lesher talked as if it was no big deal. "I got the half and got the wrist. I can be strong, but I think I can take my shots better. I’m probably better on bottom.”

Lesher looked forward to what came after the tournament -- a trip to Dairy Queen.

The word among many coaches and parents was that this years version of the meet was the best run Bantam Championship since its inception. They also discussed the importance of the meet.

“I think this is a great tournament for these young kids to get a real eye opener for the things that are to come for them in wrestling,” said Harvey Twister coach Roberto Pearson. “This competition is pretty good for these kids. You don’t need a two-to-three-day competition at this age. But for a one-day event, there is a lot of competition. These kids are hard working all year, so the numbers speak for themselves.”

Pearson believes his team benefits from attending and that his parents and coaches back the event.

“Very happy," he said. "All the Twisters give our support. We need to keep it going.”

For a first year, the combined effort of the Junior Raiders WC and Force WC staffs and volunteers gained nothing but compliments from the many in attendance. Junior Raider president Elias Medina was grateful for the compliments.

“I was a little nervous going into this but am now relieved," he said. "It’s a lot of work done by many people. We battled for (awarding) the belts using 16-man brackets and got a lot of good things said about our efforts.

"I had a lot of good people helping from both clubs and when things go well, you have to recognize a lot of it is because of them. You got to see the future of Illinois wrestling, and it’s a bright future. I’ll be listening to what folks have to say and how we can improve. I will read emails and really try to see how we can get better.”

Medina wasn’t upset after watching his squad finish second by a half-point in the team competition. He was satisfied with his wrestlers’ efforts.

“Parents and others kept asking me if I was upset about losing by such a small margin but honestly, I couldn’t be," he said. "We did a great job, and I’m proud of our guys and how they wrestled. Gomez Wrestling Academy did what they had to and earned it. I have no complaints.”

Now gearing up for the upcoming IKWF state series, Medina will surely be a busy man leading up to the state finals in Rockford. His team finished third in the team dual championships and looks to add more hardware soon.