Jordyn George, left, Mariella Huebner, Rylee Dhillon and Austin Thomas of Alberni Elementary Wrestling Team will escort provincial wrestlers into the arena during the final championship matches of the B.C. high school wrestling championships in Port Alberni on Saturday, March 3. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Young Alberni wrestlers will play a role at B.C. high school championships

More than two dozen elementary school wrestlers will act as escorts for senior competitors

When the province’s best wrestlers take to the mats for the finals of the 2018 B.C. Secondary Schools Wrestling Championships on Saturday, some of Port Alberni’s up and coming athletes will be right beside them, escorting them into the Alberni Valley Multiplex.

Organizers have arranged for two dozen elementary school wrestlers to escort their high school counterparts into the arena behind a pipe band as part of the B.C. finals.

Event co-chair Tom McEvay said the idea to include young wrestlers came from professional soccer, which has a similar practice. “With us having an elementary league it’s gone up a few notches,” he said. “Before it was fun; now they have an opportunity to compete.

“For them to have a provincial championship right in their home town and have an opportunity to see these wrestlers, it enables them to see what it’s going to look like and set some goals beyond what they’re doing now.”

Jordyn George is a first-year wrestler in Grade 4. She is looking forward to participating as an escort, and said she’s not too nervous. “I like wrestling,” she said. “My step-dad (Chris Simister) is a wrestler and I want to make him proud.”

Rylee Dhillon, in Grade 5, has wrestled for two years and appreciates the strategy behind the sport. She is hoping to wrestle once she’s in high school, so signed up as an escort. “It’s fun,” she said.

“It’s kind of nice to see the cyclical nature of the sport,” said Alberni Elementary Wrestling coach Maureen Miller, herself a provincial high school wrestling champion. Miller—a member of the Messenger family that has been involved in wrestling in Port Alberni for decades—competed for ADSS in the provincial championships from 2000–2004 and also wrestled for Simon Fraser University.

Miller had been working with Alberni Wrestling as a coach when she took time off to start a family. When she came off maternity leave last year she offered to help coach at Alberni Elementary, where she is a teacher. She coaches alongside Michelle McKenzie and Simister.

Port Alberni added an elementary school wrestling program when the middle school structure changed a few years ago, and they no longer had a middle school program. Elementary school wrestling is vital to the future of the community’s wrestling programs, said Miller.

“It’s really huge because as we reconfigured in the district we don’t have a middle school program anymore. We have a junior club program one day a week on Wednesdays. Elementary schools having something in their schools, it’s a great opportunity for kids to join a new sport—and it’s free.”

“I just love wrestling,” says Mariella Huebner, who likes trying out new sports. “I like how you learn new moves and it helps you get better in wrestling.”

The elementary students’ participation in the finals is just one way Port Alberni sets itself apart from other communities when they host the provincials. “We’ve hosted this event five times. Every time we’ve raised the bar,” said McEvay.

“We plan to raise it again.”

The wrestling championships, presented by the Port Alberni Port Authority, begin Thursday, March 1 with registration and athlete weigh-ins from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., followed by the B.C. Secondary School Wrestling Association’s AGM. At 7 p.m. the Alberni Valley Multiplex will be transformed from an ice hockey rink to a wrestling space—a temporary floor will cover the ice earlier in the day, and wrestling mats will be set up.

Wrestling begins in earnest on Friday, March 2, starting with a brief opening ceremony at 8:30 a.m. at the Multiplex and continuing with preliminary rounds and semifinals until 9 p.m. Action starts again at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, March 3 and continues with preliminaries and consolation finals until 11 a.m. The finals begin at 2 p.m. with the wrestlers’ parade and pipe band. All preliminary rounds are free to spectators. Tickets to the finals cost $5 at the ADSS office in advance. Tickets will be $10 at the door.

Previous provincial champions from Port Alberni as well as some Olympic wrestlers will be on hand to present medals.

“I think it’s going to be an amazing event,” McEvay said.

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