Emotions ran high as youth wrestlers from 19 teams showed intensity and skill on the mats in John Day Saturday at the Grant County Wrestling Invitational and ORWAY (Oregon Wrestling Association for Youth) Tournament.
There were 170 wrestlers in all competing, and the parking lot was at full capacity at Grant Union Junior/Senior High School for the day-long event.
Six of the 19 teams came from La Grande, Elgin, Baker, Hermiston, Pendleton and Wallowa County.
“It’s been a really nice turnout,” said meet coordinator Cindy Dougharity-Spencer. “We’ve had great support from the community. It’s awesome.”
She said junior high and high school athletes were referees for the matches with help from former wrestlers, parents and grandparents.
“The kids have had the opportunity to wrestle in front of friends and family,” she said.
This was the first time in 15 years or more that Grant County has hosted a youth wrestling tournament. Athletes from ages 4-14 competed.
Grant County’s Taylor Parsons, 9, had an especially good day of wrestling, winning by decision against an athlete he’d lost to in two past tournaments.
“Our kids did really well today,” said head coach Steve Parsons.
He highlighted Taylor as well as Mason Benge for their performances.
“Taylor wrestled smart and listened, and Mason Benge did a good job listening,” he said. “When they get out there, we can tell them how to adjust and if they are truly listening, we as a team can succeed.”
Benge, 10, wrestled at 88 pounds.
“It’s my favorite sport,” he said. “I’ve been doing it since I was 5. We have good teams and good coaches.”
Kaden Wright, 11, had a rough day of wrestling, but said the home meet was fun.
“Wrestling makes me stronger, and I’ve made new friends,” he said.
Athletes from ages 4-8 wrestled in the morning with ages 9-14 taking on opponents in the afternoon.
Coach Parsons said the fact their team brought 34 wrestlers to compete is a testament to their organization.
The team includes wrestlers from John Day, Prairie City, Monument, Long Creek, Dayville, Mt. Vernon and Canyon City.
Parsons said having the youth group allows them to build the program, strengthening the junior high and high school teams. He said he has received positive feedback from parents.
“I’ve had moms say, ‘My child is doing better. Their behavior is better.’”
Next up, the Grant County team will compete in Irrigon Saturday for the ORWAY regionals, and top-placers will advance to the finals in Redmond.