The sport of wrestling might not get the wide-spread exposure of other similar athletic pursuits, so that’s where the Atlantic Regional Wrestling Camp comes in.
The camp literally came to Antigonish July 1 to 6, for a week of wrestling at the Oland Centre on the campus of St. F.X.
“We’re glad to be back; we were here in 2014 and have now made our way back to Antigonish,” director Tom MacRae said, before talking more about the camp.
“It’s a camp myself and some other wrestlers from the Maritimes region developed in 2014. A lot of us, originally from Nova Scotia, moved on to the only university program in the Maritimes, UNB. When we were growing up, there were training camps in Halifax such as this, and then there was a period, of about five or six years, when there wasn’t any camps.
“We had come to the point in our careers where we were on national teams and in international programs and figured now is the opportunity to give back. So in 2014 we took a risk. We came here and had, I think, 12 athletes, a small camp. We’ve learned some lessons and, over the last few years, we‘ve been bouncing between UNB and we were at Mount Allison [University], growing the program. A lot of kids have come through and, again, we’re just trying to provide an environment where they can get quality training without having to leave the Maritimes.”
MacRae noted an aspiring wrestling athlete would have to go to Ontario or the U.S. to get a similar experience to what was provided in Antigonish at the start of the month.
He noted the majority of the campers were from the Halifax area with a few coming from New Brunswick.
“We have 15 kids here training and six staff members, two of whom are current university athletes who are just back from Guatemala; down at the Pan-America Championships,” MacRae said.
“It’s great because they were campers; they came up through 2014, ’15, ’16, and now they’re at the point where they’re part of the staff. They’re learning how to be coaches.”
Amongst the staff is local athlete Dave Gillis who learned and excelled in the sport after starting out with Chris Demers’ Pomquet club.
“Dave, who also came up through the camps back in the day and became an athlete at UNB, has joined the Atlantic Regional Wrestling Camp,” MacRae said. “He is now looking to grow the sport, give back and provide these athletes with the same opportunities he had.”
As for camp numbers this year, MacRae said it reflects a cycle with the sport where numbers grow in anticipation of the Canada Games, which takes place every four years.
“We are, sort of, on a roller-coaster with the Canada Games. Canada Games’ years are when we see our camps swell a bit to more than 40; the year after the Canada Games there is always a huge drop-off,” MacRae said.
“It’s just the nature of kids’ sports, but what we’re starting to see now is our numbers are stable. And the thing I really like, which we’re seeing with this camp, is we’re starting to see kids who have come through the camps, who have done four or five camps, now starting to transition to university; be that UNB to stay here locally in the Maritimes or they’re going out west, which is really good too. And a lot of our campers are starting to see success at the national level.”
He talked about the pride that success gives camp staff members.
“They’re coming to the camp in the summer; getting some extra training in, learning some high-level techniques, going back to their clubs and continuing to train, and then seeing success on the mats, which is really important,” he said. “We’re very proud of all of our campers.”
MacRae noted they train in freestyle wrestling.
“There are two types of wrestling internationally, freestyle and Greco-Roman; those are the two Olympic styles,” he said. “This is, predominantly, freestyle.”
He noted the best way to learn more about the sport and see what opportunities are available to get involved, is by visiting the Wrestling Nova Scotia website (wrestlingns.ca).
“That’s the source; they’re the provincial sport organization,” he said.
“Wrestling is a great sport for rural communities because you don’t need 22 athletes; one athlete and a coach, I’ve seen clubs that small. There are tons of clubs around the province, tons of high school and junior high programs, and in the Maritimes we have so many great youth level coaches, so they’re a lot of great ways to get involved.
“And it’s very accessible. This is a sport for everyone, whether you’re tall and lean or stocky and wiry … whatever you’re frame is. And it’s one of those sports where you’re not sitting on the bench waiting for your playing time. There is always an opportunity to get out and compete; I would highly recommend it,” MacRae added.