Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — To build something sturdy and solid, a good foundation is needed. The Lockport High School wrestling program may have that in the Lockport Kids Wrestling Club.
The club introduces youths ages 5 to 12 to the sport of wrestling. While in the program, kids learn how to train and compete as wrestlers, and also how to be a part of a team. The goal is to teach them how hard work and perseverance can help them become successful in life as well as wrestling.
A kids club has existed since the 1980s, but the group as it is now known as came together in 2003, starting off in the North Park auxiliary gym with 15 kids. Shawn Murray, an Emmet Belknap assistant principal and a coach with the varsity team, said the aim was to create a successful program from the kids club straight through to the varsity team.
“It’s completely run by volunteers,” Murray said. “When we started, it was just families.”
Murray was a wrestler during his school years in Lancaster. The sport had a profound impact on his life, he said, and he still keeps in close contact with some of his friends from those days.
“We wanted (Lockport youths) to have that bond,” Murray said. “it’s a tough sport, they’re there for their buddies. It makes it easier.”
The club was started by the Kapuscinki and Orefice families, along with Murray and current Lockport school board member Kevin Pratt. The kids club volunteers work side-by-side with the city school district.
Sandy Orefice said her son, Anthony, a junior, has been wrestling since he was 6 years old. Starting at the YMCA, Anthony joined the Lockport Kids Wrestling Club shortly thereafter. He was a varsity wrestler by seventh grade.
The experience that Anthony and others gained by starting with the kids club was vital.
“I think it does help, they don’t seem to come in with that fear factor too much,” Sandy said. “(When) they start young, it’s natural for them to go out there.”
Then there are the relationships that the Lockport wrestlers build, said Mary Brennan-Taylor, whose son Marshall is a senior on the varsity wrestling team. A lot of the wrestlers have been wrestling together for years, cheering each other on and learning together.
“That gave them the fundamentals and the confidence,” Brennan-Taylor said.
Kirk Feeney, 16, who has three brothers who also wrestle, said starting young really helps.
“This sport is all about experience,” Feeney said.
How the kids program has influenced the school’s wrestling teams may have been evident last week.
The Lions secured their first solo Niagara Frontier League championship since 1997 on Thursday, thanks to a 40-28 victory over visiting Lewiston-Porter. It’s Lockport’s second straight championship overall, the Lions having shared the NFL title with Lew-Port last year.
Thursday’s victory also capped an undefeated league season for the Lions, who finished 14-0. Next weekend the team moves on to the class championships, where they’ll vie for the Section VI title.
More than half of the varsity team started wrestling as a member of the kids club. And many are giving back to the program by volunteering to help the newest batch of kid wrestlers.
“We are really excited about the wins we are getting as a team and the individual accomplishments that some of our wrestlers are experiencing, but what we are most proud of is the type of young men they are turning out to be,” Murray said.Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.