Turns out, one bigger than he could’ve imagined.
Roach, the Programs Specialist of the Robeson County Parks and Recreation Department, saw over 200 kids sign up for the first-year wrestling program, which wrapped up its inaugural campaign in mid-December.
“I maybe would’ve been happy with 100 kids,” Roach said.
Getting twice that was a reassuring sign to Roach that wrestling in the county was growing. Roach has been cultivating the county landscape for aspiring wrestlers through many avenues, primarily the Lumberton Seadawgs, a wrestling club he has ran for six years. However, he wanted to extend his wrestling reach even further in the county. Roach felt a new program, one through the county parks and recreation, could produce even more eager young grapplers.
He was right.
The lot of more than 200 county youth wrestlers who signed up — boys and girls in grades K-8 — were broken up into nine different teams based on where they live in the county. The teams included Team Punishment, Tanglewood Pirates, St. Pauls Bulldogs, Pembroke Braves, Scuffletown, The Warriors, Gladiators, Killer Bees and The Raptors. For a month and a half, the squads competed in dual meets on Tuesdays and Thursday nights and tournaments on Saturdays. After a five-team playoff, the Tanglewood Pirates and Team Punishment stood as the finalists for the county championship. Team Punishment secured the program’s inaugural title with a 52-34 victory.
The program’s uniforms and equipment were fully funded by the county commissioners whom Roach said “believed in what I wanted to do and see the impact of wrestling in kids.”
Added Roach: “When I got hired by the county back in March to run youth athletic programs, I just knew that the door was going to be an open door to introduce wrestling and keep that grassroots alive.”
But Roach’s approach isn’t simply to slip on a singlet and mix-it-up on the mat. Roach, a former Lumberton High School wrestler and coach, aims to instill the qualities and characteristics that being a wrestler brings.
“We push these kids to not only do good on the mat but you have to perform in the classroom, you have to perform at home,” Roach said. “You have to have character, discipline and sportsmanship. We make sure that the parents know that.”
Parents like Nichole Strickland saw the program’s benefits.
“It gives some of the kids who don’t play basketball to venture out and try something new,” Strickland said. She has a 12-year-old son, Noah Taylor, who took part in the program and is also an original member of the Lumberton Seadawgs. “It gets them involved. Instead of playing video games and watching TV, they are able to be active.
“I was impressed with the number of kids that we had involved in it. I didn’t think we’d have a big turnout but we did.”
Without wrestling in the county’s middle schools, Roach is hoping that will translate to more wrestlers sticking with the sport and eventually taking the mats in high school. Right now only four of the six county high schools — Lumberton, Purnell Swett, St. Pauls and South Robeson — offer wrestling as a varsity sport. Fairmont and Red Springs are the outliers.
“For years we’ve just been the red-headed stepchild of sports,” Roach said. “As a wrestler myself and a coach, I see at our local high schools that there’s a need for it. We got some really talented kids in the county.”