FORT POLK, La. — Fort Polk has a youth wrestling team and they aren’t playing around. There are about 15 wrestlers on the team winning medals from tournaments across the region. The team just returned from the regional competition, ‘Texarkana Classic’ and every wrestler brought home a medal. The team falls under the Directorate of Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation Child and Youth Service Sports Program with wrestlers varying in age from 5 to 14 years. Sgt. Chris Horne, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment, is one of their coaches. He spoke about the Texarkana Classic.
“We (the coaches) are very proud of these kids. We took 15 wrestlers to the meet and all of them placed in the top three of their weight class,” he said. “These kids are coming together, putting in the work and doing an outstanding job.”
The Texarkana Classic brought competitors from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana. Next up is the state match taking place in Baton Rouge March 27-28. Horne said the team is in good shape heading into the meet.
“We’re strong and everyone is ready to compete,” he said. “Going to a state championship is intimidating but these kids want to go. They want to get out there and have fun.”
Horne talked about coaching the kids and how they learn to wrestle. Much depends on the age of the wrestler. He said wrestlers on the younger end of the scale are learning the moves and actions by rote, building muscle memory, but there is a time that the lessons click.
“They get more mature as they grow and practice and, at about 8 years old, something clicks and they become more interested in what they are doing. They really fall in love with it,” he said.
Sgt. 1st Class David Giganti, Special Operations Training Detachment, also coaches and has a son and daughter on the team. He explained why his kids wrestle.
“It’s one of the few sports where it’s you against your opponent. Win, lose or draw, it’s all on you,” he said. “There are no excuses. You give it all you have and at the end of the day, either you did, or you didn’t.”
Giganti said he wanted his children to grow up in a sport that requires accountability and the one-on-one competition of wrestling develops that trait.
“Basketball or football team members can always lay the blame elsewhere: ‘Our quarterback had a bad day’ or ‘Our defense is terrible’. With wrestling, it’s you. If you lose, you have no one to blame but you. Win and it’s all on you as well,” he said.
“It not only instills ethics like working hard and personal accountability, but helps foster character. How do you deal with defeat? You are the team,” he explained. “When the kids lose, they take it personally, you can see the emotion. The elation when they win is amazing, too, because they know they did it on their own.”
Horne said he tries to break younger wrestlers out of their shell and teach them wrestling is an aggressive sport.
“It’s all about having fun and being aggressive in the ring. If we can teach the kids to attack, be aggressive and have fun while doing it, they usually come out on top,” he said.
Giganti said wrestling helps the kids understand and overcome their limitations, and develop their skill set.
“My children understand that God gave them a skill and an ability and they want to do the best with their ability,” he said. “There are hundreds of kids at these tournaments and it’s great seeing them offer up a prayer before entering the ring. Many of them will say a prayer afterwards thanking (their higher power) for the win or for the lessons they learned in a loss.”
The team practices every Tuesday and Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Youth Gym, bldg 2070. The team is preparing for the state championship and Giganti said he thinks they will do well.
“I think we’re going to bring home some medals and I won’t be surprised if a couple of them are championships. We’ve been doing well at tournaments all over the state and I think we have a really good shot,” he said.
If you have a child that might be interested in joining the team, you can call Horne at (937) 844-8461.