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Wrestling’s new pitch

Valencia gym owner says he has plan to add sport

Posted: July 24, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 24, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Late last month, Santa Clarita Valley resident Eric Cohen won his age group's freestyle championship at the 2011 ASICS USA Wrestling Kids Freestyle and Greco-Roman Nationals in Utah.

The 14-year-old appears to have a bright future in the sport.

As it stands now, however, he'll have to pursue that future beyond the boundaries of the Williams S. Hart Union School District.

Valencia-based gym owner "Big" John McCarthy is looking to change that and make wrestling an option for prep athletes across the valley, he announced during the public address portion of Wednesday night's Hart district school board meeting.

"The coaching's not going to cost anything. The facility is not going to cost anything. It's a no-brainer," said McCarthy, a premier mixed martial arts referee at the highest levels of the sport. "It's not going to be anything but be an added benefit for the students that want to go out and do it."

Wrestling used to be a mainstay in the SCV, but was cut in the late 1970s.

McCarthy's plan is to begin a club prep wrestling program out of his gym - Big John McCarthy's Ultimate Training Academy - with the hope of expanding to CIF competition in the years that follow.

If the proposed club option proves to have little to no cost to the district, longtime local wrestling proponent and school board member Paul Strickland said the addition of wrestling could be possible.

"I think it is very likely to happen if it can be financially feasible," Strickland said.

Strickland believes that wrestling could not only help keep students in the district, but in school in general.

After Wednesday's meeting, Strickland said the board members discussed the addition of wrestling and other programs further.

"I didn't hear any negative comments from other board members on the dais during the discussion," he said.

An exploratory committee led by district Chief Operations Officer Tom Cole is expected to be launched soon.

McCarthy's side of the bargain includes the free use of his facility and coaching staff.

Much like football, parents would likely purchase a spirit pack that includes training gear, he said.

If CIF sanctioning is ultimately achieved and the schools want take on their own programs, the cost of mats and score clocks would be approximately $15,000, according to McCarthy.

Transportation and liability are two aspects that still need to be worked out.

That's what has board members like Joe Messina cautious.

"We want to make sure we have the funding to sustain the program," Messina said. "We don't want a one-year program for these kids."

McCarthy started the youth wrestling program at his facility nearly four years ago, and has since turned local athletes in state and national champions. His students also include girls, a fact that lends itself toward Title IX concerns.

"Anyone that wants to come out and practice, they are welcome, girls or boys," he said.

"The thing about wrestling that is so unique to it compared to a lot of sports is you can have a disability and still compete on the same level as other people that don't have those disabilities," McCarthy added. "We've had all kinds of wrestlers that have gone and done things with no legs or arms, and compete at the highest level."

Both McCarthy and Strickland stressed the physical, mental and emotional maturity that are developed in the sport.

They both also recognize the many obstacles that must be overcome for wrestling to be added to the SCV's athletic repertoire.

"Why should we be losing students?" Strickland said. "We should be trying to do everything we can to keep our students here and keep them involved in things that are useful and helpful to them."

McCarthy believes his option could provide the stepping stone, as well as a gauge on local youth's interest in the sport.

Signal staff writer Dan Agnew contributed to this report.



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