When he began the process of building a wrestling program at Charles Hays Secondary School (CHSS), Dane Waldal wasn’t sure what kind of success a fledgling team would have.
Four months and two individual zone championship wins later, he is still impressed by what his athletes were able to accomplish.
“I was absolutely blown away,” Waldal said. “We got started a little bit late, and for all the imperfect things that happened this season, they managed to put on a great performance at zones.”
Competing in their first wrestling competition in years, the Rainmakers had a strong showing at the Northwest zones championships in Smithers on Feb. 17. Eight wrestlers from CHSS took the mat with Tatum Acker beating Neve Foreman to win the girls’ 75-kilogram division and Josh Wittchen beating Hunter Aitken to win the boys’ 78-kilogram division.
Waldal said most of the matches were closer than the final results indicated.
“Every kid had at least a chance at scoring a pin,” he said. “They had their opponent close to a pin and they all scored points in their match, which is rare for a wrestler.”
Waldal is originally from the Regina area in Saskatchewan, and had an opportunity to learn how to wrestle from national championship-level coaches. He has competed in both wrestling and amateur level mixed martial arts bouts, and over the years, developed a passion for the different arts and styles of fighting.
When he arrived at CHSS in 2017 as a teacher, Waldal saw an opportunity to share that passion with young athletes and to build up Prince Rupert’s next generation of grapplers.
“I knew I might not have the most experience, but the school had wrestling mats and lots of interested kids,” he said. “So it was up to me to give the kids an opportunity to get on the mats.”
Waldal spent the early part of the school’s fall term putting up posters, spreading the word and building up hype for the team. In November, the team had its first practice, which was attended by approximately 40 students. Waldal started by teaching the group some of the basic moves and techniques of wrestling before moving onto more complex movements.
That first practice was a challenge and Waldal said he could see which of the athletes really enjoyed the grind.
“There’s the first time you get on the mat and you’re pushing each other and throwing each other,” he said. “Some kids when they get thrown for the first time or they get down on the mat, they have trouble getting back up.
“What I find with good wrestlers is that those kinds of adverse situations are what get them more excited.”
The wrestlers that remained on the team formed that core group that travelled to Smithers, and even though they did not all win their matches, Waldal is confident they have built a foundation that will carry them through to next year’s season.
“I can’t wait until next year,” he said. “Most of them had only seen a wrestling mat for the first time in November.
“Next year we’ll be ready.”