By Tris Wykes
Copyright Octopus Athletics 2022
LEBANON – Simon Amaro staggered off a corner of the wresting mat in Lebanon High’s Lang Metcalf Gymnasium on Tuesday and headed directly to a small trash can on the lacquered wood floor.
Bent at the waist, the senior spit out the contents of his stomach. He readjusted his headgear, accepted a new surgical mask and headed back into battle against Mascoma’s Tyler Mekus. For a competitor more accustomed to the spins and sprints of soccer or the stick work of lacrosse, this was an entirely different sport.
“You’re one-on-one with somebody else,” Amaro said after the Royals departed with a 45-24 victory. “It’s a full-body workout and the strength of one man against another but it’s also a mental challenge.”
Wrestling, as Amaro is quick to point out, is not simply ground fighting. For one thing, participants spend short but crucial stretches on their feet. Also, there are myriad rules regulating grips, stances and holds. It’s a lot for the Raiders to absorb during their first varsity season, which was preceded by several seasons as a club team.
“Where to turn, where to move. They’re such foreign concepts to a lot of the kids,” said assistant coach Lucas McKittrick, who filled in for Covid-afflicted head coach Chauncey Wood against Mascoma. “Some things that seem common sense are not what you want to do on the wrestling mat.”
The Lebanon club effort began four years ago with just four wrestlers and Wood, then the school’s JV baseball coach and an upstate New York native who grappled in high school. Wood, now working at the school as a paraeducator and heading into his second season as the head baseball coach, helped will the program into varsity existence. It now boasts a 25-competitor roster and has two team victories this winter.
“We’ve concentrated on learning technique,” said Amaro, one of only two seniors, and who was part of a state championship soccer team last fall. “Everyone works hard and is energetic, but that sometimes needs to be reigned in. We have a lot of younger kids on the team who goof around, so instilling good practice habits is still something we need to work on.”
Amaro became interested in the sport when 2019 Lebanon High graduate Caiden Skalkalski took him to a Mascoma summer workout. The Royals built their program in similar fashion a few years before Lebanon. Skalkalski, who wrestled a season at Plymouth State and who’s now a Raiders assistant, had spent plenty of time practicing with the Royals.
Although Mascoma is still a young program, it boasts several wrestlers who, as is often the norm in southern New Hampshire, started the sport as elementary school students. Roman Farnsworth is one and Amaro’s opponent, Tyler Mekus, is another.
“The hardest part for me is trying to catch up on that muscle memory they have already, where their movements are almost instinctual,” Amaro said. “That and all these rules make it far more difficult than I had anticipated.”
Amaro’s 170-pound bout with Mekus went the full three periods, each of them two minutes long, before the Royal triumphed and had his arm raised by referee Bob Daniels.
“It doesn’t sound like it should take much out of you, but I was gassed,” Amaro said. “You’re using your full mental and physical energy, but when you have less experience, sometimes you use energy when you don’t need to.”
Said McKittrick: “You pack the adrenaline of a full football or basketball game into six minutes at the most. It takes experience to know when to exert and when to stay in position and not go all out.”
There is no wrestling room at Lebanon, where the team practices in the cafeteria after classes. The team’s nine freshmen, six sophomores and eight juniors, plus Amaro and fellow senior and first-year grappler Sebastian Yates, have to roll and unroll the practice and meet mats as well as clean and store them. At times, they tend to get ahead of themselves once action begins.
“It’s tempting for kids to want to try fancy moves they see at a tournament, but we have to stick to basic concepts,” said McKittrick, a psychologist who wrestled at Connecticut’s Trinity College. “Our kids are getting past the point of worrying about losing and we could care less as long as they wrestle hard.
“You probably learn more from the losses anyways, and they’re life lessons.”
If you found this story worthwhile, please consider donating to support the work that produced it.
Octopus Athletics is an independent site covering sports in the heart of the Upper Valley. Your contributions allow us to bring you news without paywalls or pop-up ads.