Youth wrestling camp a big hit at Northern Lebanon
The top stories of the day. Lebanon Daily News / USA TODAY Network / Wochit
Under the guidance of head coach Rusty Wallace, Northern Lebanon has developed a powerhouse wrestling program in recent years, one capable of taking on and beating the best Pennsylvania has to offer.
When you have that kind of success, including a district championship in 2016 and a state runner-up finish this past season, word gets around. And suddenly, kids who perhaps wouldn't have been interested in wrestling in the past start showing up at your youth camp.
At least that's what happened at Northern Lebanon this week, as close to 60 youngsters descended on the school for the four-day Wreck Room youth wrestling camp.
Like any good youth camp, the focus was on both fun and instruction, as Wallace and NL varsity wrestlers past and present were joined by a slew of high-profile guest instructors, including three-time NCAA champ Ricky Bonomo, former four-time All-American Steve Fittery and one-time Pennsylvania state champions Steve Borja and Jim Collins, a Northern Lebanon grad and former assistant to Wallace.
"The idea of the camp, at least for me, is just to really try to promote the sport at the youth level," Wallace said Thursday afternoon. 'Wrestling numbers are declining and there are a lot of reasons for that. It's a tough sport, especially for young kids. You have to teach them to love wrestling before you can teach them how to wrestle. Everything I want to do with the youth guys is get them to fall in love with the sport.
"The design of the camp was to teach technique, incorporate team-building activities and I wanted them to leave every day excited about the next day. When you get little kids excited about wrestling, there's nothing better."
Wallace has held youth camps before and attracted a strong group of youngsters to them. But this year's camp, feeding off the Vikings' run of success at the league, district and state levels in recent years certainly enhanced the interest and turnout for this year's endeavor.
"We had camps before and some of the same clinicians before, and maybe you don't get quite the numbers," Wallace said. "Five, six years ago we were getting 20, 25, 30 kids. When you have a product, and we like to think of our program as a product, you advertise, you try to market and try to make it something bigger and people see that. Anytime you have success at a higher level, it helps when you try to promote an event like this."
But from a purely personal perspective, it was heartening for Wallace to see how many of his varsity wrestlers, including some recent graduates, wanted to be a part of the camp as instructors and mentors. It's an indication that the pride Wallace's wrestlers have in the program has increased right alongside the number of wins.
"We were able to bring in some amazing clinicians, which was awesome," Wallace said. "And one of the neat aspects about the camp was I had most of my varsity team there coaching and mentoring the younger kids. It's just one generation giving back to the next. Those little kids can look up to those high school kids and want to emulate them. That's super important for us.
"That for me, is one of the best things. Before we want to have great wrestlers, we just want to have great people. I want these guys to be just good people in general. The fact that they're willing to be there every day, just helping out and giving back, that's pretty cool."
And while grooming future Northern Lebanon wrestlers was the primary focus of the camp, it wasn't the lone objective. Wallace was also happy to see wrestlers from the Elco, Lebanon and Tulpehocken school districts attending the camp.
"We want our area, we want Lebanon County, to be better at wrestling," Wallace said. "If you help make the teams around you better, it's gonna help make you better. There were years when Elco and Annville were far better than us, and it made us work harder. It's exciting to see all these local kids having fun wrestling."