It takes a lot of courage to walk into a room filled with teenagers you don’t know, and try to teach them something new.
But when you’re Bill Brooks and you’re passionate about wrestling, you do it with enthusiasm.
Brooks, joined by Chilliwack Grapplers assistant coaches Americo Pena and Koren Appleton, spent three days and 12 hours in the Imagine High gym last week, hoping to draw more kids into the sport.
Each day saw Brooks and crew teaching four classes, for one hour each. Over 60 minutes they covered everything from rules to basic wrestling technique. It’s the first time the Grapplers have done this kind of outreach, and Brooks said he was looking for laughter and engagement.
“Even if it’s only for six or seven seconds during whatever activity that we’re doing,” Brooks said. “And then when you come back to coach them one-on-one, you see that they focused and intent on learning. Those are measurements of success, but the most important thing is when you have three or four people come later and say, ‘When are you practising? What’s the cost?’”
Since starting the Grapplers in 2019, Brooks has championed wrestling as a sport that “levels the playing field.” Big or small, short or tall, he touts it as the most inclusive of sports.
When he talked to one group about 17 male and female weight divisions, one Imagine High student asked him what happens with a wrestler who doesn’t identify as a specific gender.
“I would be proud for the Grapplers to welcome a transgender athlete,” he said, without skipping a beat. “It doesn’t matter how you identify, we will find a spot for you. Don’t let that be the barrier.”
It’s been a challenging two years for the Grapplers, but that attitude has helped the club emerge stronger than ever.
The non-profit club has a home at Evergreen Hall, where they train four days a week, and a grant from the Chilliwack Foundation helped them get two new matts. After dropping down to five members at the height of the COVID pandemic, the club’s numbers have rebounded. Brooks said they were up to 15-20 in the summer and he saw new faces at weeknight workouts after the Imagine High experience.
The Grapplers are recognized by the Chilliwack School District as the administrative body for wrestling during the BC School Sports Wrestling Season. They’re the only community club in B.C. to have that designation. Athletes practice with the club and compete for their school, and Brooks hopes to expand in-school outreach by promoting the idea of cross-training.
“Wrestling pairs very well with non-winter sports like rugby, football, field hockey — all that low-to-the-ground mobility stuff has been recognized by National Football League coaches and elite rugby guys,” Brooks said. “We’ll have outreach to that community where we say, ‘Since you’re idle now, come spend some time with us and you’ll be a different player later on.”
Brooks also hopes to build up the female side, saying there are “significant opportunities” for women who apply themselves to be recognized early, opening the door to travel and scholarships.
“The overall message for all youth is that there is something else to do in the winter,” he said.
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