Del Norte Youth Wrestling is enjoying record participation this year with a whopping 124 youth who have taken part in the 2017 season. The program has 28 more kids than last year, which was also a record turnout for the Warriors. Much of that growth has come from a brand new branch of the Del Norte Youth Wrestling family, with practices now being offered three times a week at Yurok Tribal Headquarters in Klamath.
“I’m just glad that we can have the practices down here and we don’t have to drive to town everyday for it,” said Lance Bates, an assistant coach in Klamath who has several sons competing in wrestling for the first time this year. “That was one of the big reasons that we wrestled this year. We already have baseball and football in town, so it’s nice that we have wrestling now too.”
Klamath head coach Oscar Gensaw III said practices have maxed out at 31 kids in the branch’s inaugural season with an average of 10–12 peewee and intermediate wrestlers and roughly 12–13 in the intermediate age group and older at any given practice. Gensaw said well over half of those kids are brand new to the sport.
“It has been a really good response,” Gensaw said. “A lot of the kids have come a long ways this year. At the beginning of the year we had a lot of third and fourth place finishes. Now a good majority of the team has been placing in the top three pretty consistently at a lot of the tournaments. A few of the kids have been consistently placing in first or second place.”
The Gensaw family has been participating in Del Norte Youth Wrestling for a few years now, and last season, with two boys on the squad, Gensaw approached his old high school teammate and Del Norte Youth Wrestling president, Clinton Schaad, about possibly setting up a satellite branch to make it easier for kids in Klamath to join the team.
“We were going up (to Crescent City) for practices, and I was one of the coaches who helped out up there last year,” Gensaw said. “I know there is a lot of our Klamath youth down here who play sticks. We have a lot of good athletes, but they don’t all have rides to get to town for practice. So I talked to Clinton last year about possibly getting some mats and then just running the practice down there. He was all for it and took it to the board.”
Gensaw said joining up with an already established group in Del Norte Youth Wrestling has made it much easier to get the program running.
“Del Norte Youth Wrestling has been established for a lot of years, and I know the coaches up there. It has been a great support system to have to get us started,” Gensaw said. “Clinton and Cheyenne (Schaad) came down and helped us out with signups, and they have just been a great help to us, just piggybacking off the experience that they have.”
After getting approval from the Del Norte Youth Wrestling board, and a little help getting started, the Klamath community has taken the opportunity and run with it.
“We had a community member donate the mats for us, and we had signups down here, and it has just taken off from there,” Gensaw said. “We have been able to utilize some of the tribal vehicles — they have been helping us out with getting rides to some of the tournaments if the kids need it. A lot of our community members have really been the ones supporting it. We have gotten a lot of donations for things like singlets and people donated wrestling shoes and things like that. The community has really come together. We don’t really have a lot of team sports down in Klamath, so everybody kind of jumped on it.”
In addition to donations, several community members have volunteered their time to help Oscar with the coaching, including Bates, James Kleinhans, who still competes in jiu-jitsu, and Nicole Mattz, Del Norte High School’s first and only North Coast Section Girls Wrestling champion, winning the 111 pound bracket in 2014.
With so many new kids on the team, Gensaw said they have been bringing the kids along slowly this season.
“We are just trying to get them comfortable with takedowns and some of the basic moves,” he said. “That is mainly what we have been doing this year because a lot of them are first-year wrestlers. Next year we will hopefully have a good turnout again. We are thinking about trying to have four days of practice, and I would like to add a couple more coaches as well.
“Our goal is to make it a staple in this community. We just want to keep it going and have it continue to grow. It definitely helps to get them going at this young age so that once they get into high school they are already used to the work ethic that you need and they can continue with the sport through high school as well.”
Gensaw said he enjoyed playing basketball growing up. He also competed in the stick games and in boxing at the Gensaw Boxing Club, which was run by his grandfather.
He wasn’t exposed to the sport of wrestling much until high school, however.
“When you go to high school if you want to play basketball you have to try out, but with wrestling if you want to be on the team, you are on the team,” Gensaw noted. “I didn’t really go too far in high school (wrestling), but I had the love for it, and I just wanted to pass that onto my boys and my daughter.”
For Gensaw, seeing his kids progress in just a few months has been the highlight of the season so far. Gensaw said his youngest son, Oscar, was a little shy about getting onto the mat last year, but one season later he has really started to come on strong.
“I think he only ended up wrestling two matches all season (last year). This year we are getting him out there and he has taken first two times and placed second four times,” Gensaw said. “Just seeing the difference between last year and this year makes it all worth it. When I see things like that it definitely makes me wish that I had started sooner, but at the same time it makes me feel good that I can at least give that opportunity to not only my kids but all of the other kids down here as well.”
Today marks the end of the youth wrestling season as the entire Del Norte Youth Wrestling squad will head south to Eureka for the Redwood Empire Wrestling Association Championships.
Most of the boys on the team in Klamath also participate in the stick games, which are just starting up for the season as Northern California starts to dry out from a wet winter and spring. The extra few months of activity will only improve the stick teams in Klamath.
“It helps a lot,” said Bates, who also coaches the youth stick teams. “This is my boys’ first year of wrestling and I think it will improve their stick game a lot. It helps just with taking them down and holding them down. The extra conditioning really helps too because that is a big part of the stick games and it’s a big part of wrestling. The conditioning is probably the biggest thing.”