The Chronicle -

By Noel Nash
The Chronicle 

Big Dawg continues hold on area wrestling

 

December 19, 2019

Cody Warren/The Chronicle

Bella Bazinet, 9, awaits her first match at last weekend's annual Big Dawg Challenge, hosted by the Creswell Mat Club. Over 140 youngsters from across the state participated.

CRESWELL – The subdued, gray skies on the morning of Saturday, Dec. 14 belied a kaleidoscope of chaos and color inside the town's high school gym. The annual Big Dawg Challenge, hosted by the Creswell Mat Club, was well underway.

"It's like herding cats," said Rachel Sanders, smiling as she surveyed the frenetic scene, her arms clutching a variety of baggies and equipment. Sanders, president of the Creswell Mat Club, is a full-fledged "wrestling mom."

This year, she and her colleagues on the club board, plus dozens of student and adult volunteers, and wrestling coaches and officials from all across Oregon, were overseeing nearly 140 youngsters – from the registration and weigh-in process through matches and the awards program.

Clearly, it's a labor of love for all involved.

The tournament is for boys and girls – sometimes wrestling each other in the same weight categories – who are pre-K through eighth grade. Sanders has an eighth-grader, Kaleb, who has participated in the Big Dawg since pre-school; she has two other sons who wrestled and were graduated by Creswell High.

Ron Sigler, 59, recently moved to Eugene from San Diego to be closer to his adult daughter. He thought it was going to be a nice way to retire. Now, the former wrestling coach of 28 years is helping officiate events while "building big barns" for a construction company.

"I love working with the kids," he said. "We don't 'coach' them, but at this stage, we do try and reinforce the positive aspects of respect for opponents, officials and appropriate behavior."

The Bazinet family of Creswell was typical of many attendees; proud parents with multiple children participating. Father Buck beamed as his daughter, Bella, 9, talked about her interest in wrestling. Bella, already in fourth grade, was competing in her first tournament and has the "Fireman's Carry" in her toolbox. That's a takedown in which a wrestler is brought across his or her opponent's shoulders. "I'm both nervous and excited," she said, minutes from her first match, her freckles spreading across her cheeks above a big grin. Two of her five siblings were competing.

Daniel Lopez of Eugene had a similar story. His five kids were at the gym, and three were competing. Ashley, 13, is in her first year and, according to dad, "she's kicking butt." Asked what that means, Ashley explained, "I win a lot." She admitted that she's suffered a few losses, too, but "winning is more fun." In fact, pinning an opponent is even more fun, she admitted, giggling.

The Lopez family was with the North Eugene Wrestling Club. Her brother, Carlos, 10, has been at it for nearly two years. He prefers wrestling to other sports. "I feel like I'm doing more stuff," he said.

Several attendees noted a smaller crowd this year, and the action, or lack thereof, at the concession stands was a clear indication of fewer people. Creswell's Carl Wilkerson, a veteran of the wrestling scene and recent graduate of the FBI National Academy, speculated that other tournaments might be cutting into the Big Dawg. "It's a fairly recent occurrence," he said of competing tournaments in the area. Sanders and Wilkerson noted that past events had brought 300-400 participants, and that there is a natural ebb-and-flow in participation over the years.

Last year, technological difficulties left some parents upset after long-distance travel and a long day of wrestling resulted in, well, delayed results.

No one is certain which year the Big Dawg "officially" was established because it was in "loose" form for a few years, Wilkerson said. Estimates put it at 15-20 years.

Speaking to parents and participants at the school, it would be hard to find anyone referencing a "down year."

Jose Rivera of the North Eugene wrestling club was with his son, Jose Jr., for the second year in a row. Junior, 9, has been wrestling for three years. Why are they at the Big Dawg? "There is better competition here, greater challenges," Jose Sr. said.

Asked what interests him in wrestling, Jose Jr. didn't hesitate: "I love it. It gets your aggression out," he said, punctuating the sentence with a firm heel turn as he walked toward the mat.

Sanders and her board teammates – Phoenix Warthen, Crystal and Clint Perdue – said the fulfillment comes in seeing children grow and develop.

"When I see them walk on that mat hesitantly, and then walk off the mat after the match with a sense of achievement and confidence ... " her voice trails off a bit. "It's amazing. Every time."

Cody Warren/The Chronicle

An Umpqua wrestler (blue singlet) gains the upper hand on Saturday.

Sanders said the Mat Club's goal is to become a 501(c)3 non-profit. "It's about leaving a legacy, making sure the club continues in good standing well into the future," she said.

Sitting in the upper grandstand area, Doug Maddux was cradling his 5-month-old, Presley, who was attending her sixth wrestling tournament, he said. He acknowledged, with an easy smile, the paradox of the big, burly-man wrestler gently cradling the baby.

He also was quick to speak of Grayson, 5, his son, competing in the 42-45-pound PeeWee division. The former Western Montana State wrestler who coached for 15 years until Grayson's birth, watched the beehive of activity below with his wife, Tonya. Dressed in Umpqua Wrestling Club gear, he said watching Grayson wrestle "is incredibly meaningful."

A sentiment everyone could pin down Saturday.

 
 

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