Fort Polk wrestling team takes season by storm

By Angie ThorneMarch 15, 2023

Fort Polk wrestling team takes season by storm
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The Fort Polk wrestling team shows off a few of the medals they have won. (Photo Credit: Angie Thorne) VIEW ORIGINAL
Fort Polk wrestling team takes season by storm
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Sgt. 1st Class David Giganti, head coach of the Fort Polk wrestling team (right), demonstrates a move with his assistant coach Ethan White during a practice held at the Youth Gym Feb. 14. (Photo Credit: Angie Thorne) VIEW ORIGINAL
Fort Polk wrestling team takes season by storm
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Members of the Fort Polk wrestling team practice their skills Feb. 14 at Fort Polk’s Youth Gym. (Photo Credit: Angie Thorne) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT POLK, La. — Two opponents participate in a match filled with gritty one-on-one wrestling skills and competitive spirit. Intense grappling prowess is seen in one move after another and a victor is chosen. But that competition on the mat is just a small snapshot of what Fort Polk’s Child and Youth Services Youth Sports Wrestling program is about.

Sgt. 1st Class David Giganti, Special Operations Training Detachment, operations sergeant, is the head coach for the team. Giganti, with the help of two coaches and two volunteers, are able to train up to 30 wrestlers during 90-minute sessions twice a week at Fort Polk’s Youth Gym. The season lasts from October through March. By the end of the season the team will have competed in 10 tournaments from Dallas and Houston to Shreveport and Baton Rouge.

Demonstrating the proper foundation of grappling skills is important, but Giganti is also teaching his team so much more than wrestling.

“I’m teaching them lifelong lessons,” Giganti said.

Those lessons include guiding them through intense emotions, some of which they are experiencing for the first time as individual competitors.

“They have to deal with defeat, success and everything in between,” Giganti said. “I tell parents they have to help them learn how to deal with that rollercoaster of emotion because the entire experience as an individual athlete is on that child’s shoulders. When done right, their maturity levels skyrocket. I always tell them (the wrestlers) to lose like a champion and win like a professional. Teaching them sportsmanship is key.”

In addition to the physical demands, the wrestlers need to maintain personal accountability and structure.

“They have to be on time and watch their nutrition and weight, which means they can’t eat junk food and drink sodas. These are just a couple of life lessons that teach them how to improve their health and the benefits of being on time,” Giganti said.

Giganti said wrestling isn’t an easy sport.

“After wrestling, everything else in life is easy,” Giganti said. “Any challenge they face in life after this, they will know they can overcome the adversity because they had the grit and determination to make it through wrestling.”

Derrick Laster Jr., 11, is a member of the wrestling team. He got into wrestling because he wanted to try out a new sport.

Laster enjoys traveling to different places for tournaments, but said competing against the older, heavier wrestlers can be tough.

He likes using the different skills he has learned on and off the mat.

“It’s nice to know how to defend myself. That is something that I have learned through wrestling,” Laster said.

Clover Rutland, 15, Leesville High School, joined the wrestling program for the scholarship opportunities, but stayed because she enjoyed winning and putting to use all the skills she has learned in practice.

“The hardest part of wrestling is probably when I go to tournaments and compete against guys. It can be tough because I don’t have the same amount of upper body strength, but I just listen to my coaches and follow their directions,” Rutland said. “I made the decision to do this (compete against males) because it’s a challenge and puts my skills to the test, but sometimes there’s no other choice because there aren’t enough female competitors.”

Rutland said wrestling is a great opportunity to participate in an individual sport that takes intelligence and grit and improves your physical strength and abilities.

Griffin Giganti, 11, is homeschooled and likes the effort involved in wrestling.

“I only have myself to rely on when I’m out on the mat competing. If I make a mistake, it’s just on me and the hard work and effort I put into the training,” Griffin said.

By the end of last year he was winning awards.

“I came in third place at the state championship last year and I hope I do even better this year,” Griffin said.

Concentration is one way Griffin continues to win.

“You have to keep your mind focused on wrestling and not become distracted by your emotions or things like the noise from the audience,” Griffin said. “If you let it happen, you could be the one taken down on the mat.”

Lucas White, 9, Parkway Elementary School, enjoys going to tournaments and competing.

“I like learning and using the wrestling moves and skills,” White said. “But I think the most important thing I’ve learned is sportsmanship. I respect my opponent’s skills — win or lose.”

Emma Giganti, 9, is homeschooled and likes wrestling because as soon as she steps on that mat, she feels incredible.

“I like the feeling of taking that shot. It’s a force of energy like a bolt of lighting going through your body when everything goes just right and I put my competitor on the ground. It’s a powerful feeling,” Emma said. “I love people cheering for me. It feels great to win.”

The last two seasons, the Fort Polk Wrestling team has had 10 Louisiana State Champions and 15 placers, including several back-to-back state champions. Currently, Emma is a two time Louisiana State Champion at 55 pounds and is going for her third straight State title this year. Rutland is a current Louisiana State Champion at 130 pounds and is looking to repeat her title as well.

This year the team has consistently finished in the top 10% of tournaments when the team competes as a whole and in the top 25% when they compete as a partial team. The majority of Fort Polk wrestlers medal in every tournament they attend, even double medaling when double-bracketed.

Giganti said they are becoming know as fierce competitors.

The last tournament of the season takes place March 18 in Shreveport and the Louisiana State Championship is held March 25 in Baton Rouge.