With five members of last year’s team lost to graduation, Mike Rhodes’ 18th season as Ucluelet Secondary School’s wrestling coach looks to be a rebuilding one.
“Individually, our returning wrestlers are certainly going to be able to compete, if not look to improve upon what they did last year, although it’s hard to improve upon Mayben [Crabbe’s] performance,” Rhodes told the Westerly News. “But, team wise, we’re probably in a bit of a rebuild.”
Crabbe became the school’s first national gold medal winner after besting the rest of her competition at the Juvenile Canadian Championships in Calgary. Having a title to defend could up the pressure on Crabbe’s final high school wrestling season but Rhodes is confident she’ll take it in stride.
“She’s got a lot to live up to, but I don’t think it really fazes Mayben. She’s a pretty rocksteady kid,” he said. “She loves to get out there and roll around on the mat and train and work and get better. It’s that kind of excitement that I think is going to carry her through and she’s going to be successful no matter what she does.”
He added the school’s tournament performances and trophies have boosted the town’s reputation as a source of solid wrestlers.
“I’m not sure all of them know where we are, but definitely when people see our kids’ names they know they’re in for a fight,” he said.
Crabbe’s veteran leadership will be called upon to help young local wrestlers develop. High school season is getting underway and will include trips throughout Vancouver Island and the mainland. There is still time to join the team and Rhodes hopes to see a steady stream of students come check the sport out.
“There’s a natural hesitation for some kids I think who are a little unsure about it. They’re not sure whether it’s for them. Even the uniform is a little bit daunting for some kids. But, in my experience, those that push past that hesitation and give it a try, they get bit by the bug so to speak and it’s full on,” he said.
“It’s as competitive and as intense as you want it to be in terms of the competition and the training…It’s a lot of fun. All of the kids on the team get along well. There’s a lot of laughter.”
He added the sport teaches a variety of transferable skills like balance, strength and speed.
“There’s a lot of thought to it actually,” he said.
“It’s actually a very cerebral kind of sport. There’s a lot of strategy and technique. There’s a lot more to it than just two guys out there pounding on each other.”
Rhodes moved to Ucluelet from Port Alberni when he took a job as USS’ Physical Education teacher in 1999 and the wrestling program was just being born under now-former coach Warren Cannon. Rhodes eventually took over the program and stayed at the helm after becoming the school’s vice principal in 2007.
“You make that commitment to your athletes. Especially the ones who are returning year-to-year. They’re excited about the season coming up,” he said.
“There’s an intrinsic satisfaction when the kids that you are coaching and the skills you are imparting bear fruit. When you can see the kids do well and they get excited you live that excitement along with them. Overall, it’s very satisfying to know that you are providing experiences for these kids that will last them lifetimes.”
He said extracurricular activities are important for students to get engaged in.
“You are going to get out of this place what you put into it. So signing up, getting involved and taking advantage of the opportunities is only going to enhance your school experience,” he said.
“Having those opportunities, and having the staff and the volunteers to provide those opportunities is huge…For a small school we’re doing a fantastic job. There’s always something going on here for kids to be involved in.”
He added all student athletes must keep their studies top of mind.
“Extracurriculars are a privilege and they need to make sure that they’re holding up their end of the bargain too in the sense that they’re not getting in trouble, that they’re maintaining their schoolwork and that they’re demonstrating good character both inside and outside of school.”