Youth wrestling is a Vashon tradition dating back to the early 1970s. On the south wall of the Vashon Island High School (VHS) gym, sheets of green fabric with gold lettering denote victories in league and state championships from 1980 through two years ago.
Head coach Anders Blomgren, along with his brother Per Lars, has instructed and coached Vashon Wrestling for 18 years. Blomgren was a state champion in high school, wrestling for VHS, and he continued on to become an All American during his time at Simon Fraser University (the only Canadian member of the NCAA) in B.C., Canada.
He usually begins the high school team’s practices with storytelling and a warm-up, followed by live situations and matches.
“They get in a wrestling situation that we’ve worked on, then they try to win from that position,” Blomgren said. “We worry about process, not initial product.”
The Vashon Wrestling program has opportunities for kids ages four through 18. The kids’ program, called the Rockbusters, is for wrestlers ages four through 12. There is the McMurray program for middle schoolers, as well as the camps during the spring and summer.
The winter season — in which the wrestlers are currently competing — extends into February.
“We work on getting better every day,” Blomgren said. “We have a team plan for improvement (in order) to be our best in February.”
The coaches also make individual plans so that each wrestler can capitalize on their skills.
“Luke Larson is really good at pinning people, while other wrestlers are really good at taking them down,” Blomgren added, as an example.
Larson is one of five seniors on this year’s team. According to Blomgren, the team, overall, is younger and far less experienced than in previous years. There are 28 athletes in total, 10 of whom are freshmen.
“It’s early,” he said. “We’ve competed well, but (we) have a lot to work on.”
So far this season, Vashon Wrestling has had one tournament — a competition comprised of multiple teams from around the league — and two dual meets or competitions with only two teams involved.
Though the current high school wrestling team is entirely male, that has not always been the case. As far back as the 1980s, a number of young women have grappled, competed and won including — as advertised on the gym wall — a Women’s Wrestling State Championship victory in 2008.
Last year, Peytra Gard took a chance with wrestling, jumping into the sport her senior year.
“She was a pillar for our program,” Blomgren said. “She was fabulous … she would have benefitted from wrestling all four years, but she did fine in one year. She’s wrestling at the (Washington State University) Wrestling Club right now.”
The coaches don’t only aim to shape their students into better wrestlers and athletes, they also aim to shape character.
“Students … often say that other things are way easier because they’ve wrestled,” Blomgren said.
This is due in part to the level of organization and commitment required by the individuals in order to be successful.
“When you wrestle, it’s just you against an opponent,” Blomgren said. “Your teammates can’t bail you out, nor can your coach or your parents. It’s mano-a-mano for six minutes — sometimes under a spotlight with everyone watching.”
The next wrestling tournament is slated for 10 a.m. Dec. 30, in the VHS gym. Fifteen teams from around the state will be in attendance, and finals will be held around 3 p.m.
— Adriana Yarkin is a VHS journalism student