Grappling on the Shore

Sport making progress slowly in an area new to amateur wrestling

Kenn Oliver koliver@thetelegram.com
Published on April 17, 2010

From Bay Bulls to Trepassey - and everywhere in between - there's as much a history of wrestling on the Southern Shore as there is with ice hockey in the Republic of Congo.

In other words, it's virtually non-existent.

But when substitute physical education teacher Robert Basha arrived at Mobile Central High in the fall of 2008, he immediately recognized the potential to turn some athletically-talented students into wrestlers.

From Bay Bulls to Trepassey - and everywhere in between - there's as much a history of wrestling on the Southern Shore as there is with ice hockey in the Republic of Congo.

In other words, it's virtually non-existent.

But when substitute physical education teacher Robert Basha arrived at Mobile Central High in the fall of 2008, he immediately recognized the potential to turn some athletically-talented students into wrestlers.

The former Memorial University Sea-Hawks varsity wrestler, whose own career on the mat was cut short following back surgery in 2004, started an after-school recreation program which attracted male students with varying interest.

"There was potential to learn in some of them, athletic potential in some, and there were others just with the desire to do it," said Basha, a native of Curling on the province's west coast.

It didn't take long for Basha to see who would grab hold of the new sport and not let go.

"It's the type of sport where all eyes are on you, you're the centre of attention for five or six minutes and that doesn't work for some people.

"And you have to take it on the chin sometimes. That kind of weeded out who was into it and who was not."

Year 2 of Basha's wrestling program attracted a few more interested students and saw the doors opened to girls. And like the year before, when the focus was on them, interest in some cases waned.

"They were worried about getting beat in front of people."

But, that's wrestling, says Basha, "it separates the boys from the men.

"The way some sports are, to save face, people will push the blame on someone else.

"You can't blame your teammates in this sport. If you mess up, you mess up, not your teammates."

For Grade 10 Mobile student Stephen Adams, the individual nature of the sport was part of the appeal when he started in the fall.

Quit hockey

"I quit hockey and really needed something to compensate for that. I found I really like competing as an individual," says Adams, who contends the sport offers a workout second to none and has helped heighten his self-confidence.

The solitary nature of the sport goes beyond the end result, but exists on the mat during matches, as well.

"It's a sport where the mental game is more important than the physical game," Basha insists. "You can't worry about what your opponent is doing, you have to worry about what you're going to do.

"How you perform in that small window of time is not controlled by your opponent or anyone else but you."

Basha maintains the only thing that can help wrestlers avoid those pitfalls is experience, something he's had a hard time gaining for his crew.

New school team travel restrictions limited the team's ability to seek competition elsewhere, and host teams in Mobile's first year.

And this past fall's H1N1 outbreak did the same this season. Couple that with few schools offering varsity wrestling, the Mobile wrestlers' closest competition is at Roncalli high in Avondale, Ascension Collegiate in Bay Roberts or Carbonear Collegiate.

Regardless, Basha says his troops are making progress.

Proof came just a few weeks ago when the team won a pair of individual medals at the Newfoundland and Labrador Winter Games in Grand Falls-Windsor.

"Proud wasn't the word," says Basha of Sean Power's silver and Adams' bronze. "I worked them like dogs and it showed.

"If I thought they weren't ready, I wouldn't have brought them. I'm not for leading the way to a slaughter."

Two other members of the team, Tyler Whitten and Tyler Williams, finished fifth in their respective weight classes.

Basha sees big things down the road for his wrestling prodigies, suggesting Adams will go far beyond provincials as he advances.

In the meantime, Basha is already in the process of planning a series of dual meets against experienced wrestlers next season.

koliver@thetelegram.com