By Larry Moko
The sport of wrestling has taken hold at St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School.
Under the direction of coach Stefanie West, an enthusiastic group of athletes launched a wrestling start-up program in October. They’ve been practicing three times a week – twice after school and once in the morning — on mats they haul out and set up each time in the cafeteria.
The Knights already have competed in a Grimsby tournament and on Dec. 5 they travel to Milton for another high school meet.
“A lot of kids know that I’m a former wrestler,” said West, who starred at the university level for the McMaster Marauders and went on to win medals for Canada at various international events. She’s taught at Cathedral High School and for the last four years at St. Thomas More.
“So for the past four years kids have been asking if we can start a team,” she added. “I’ve taken a hiatus from having children (after two maternity leaves) so I thought now would be the best time to get it going.
“Administration, the Hamilton Wrestling Club, McMaster and Bishop Ryan (Catholic Secondary School) have been unbelievably supportive. As soon as I said I wanted to start a program it’s been all hands on deck. It’s been like a city-wide effort to get this going.”
West said an average of 40 kids come out for practices. And she anticipates that number to increase now that More’s championship junior and senior football seasons are just wrapping up.
“This is my first time wrestling,” More Grade 9 student Nathaniel Medeiros said. “It’s a great experience. It’s really fun and energizing. I love it. I would recommend it to anyone.
More’s male team captain is Ali Hammond. Isabella Dmitrovich serves as captain of the females. West’s assistant coaches are Fabio Medeiros and Jessica Kersley.
“It’s been really exciting,” West said.
The Knights turned in an impressive third-place overall showing among 24 teams at the Nov. 28 Blessed Trinity tournament. Said West: “They were so nervous at that first tournament. Nobody had wrestled before. Our first girl, Fatou Soumah, was the first match of the whole tournament.
And she went out and won, 10-0. That set the tone. The kids thought ‘we can do this’. They started to believe in themselves.”
The Knights wrestled in shorts and T-shirts since the singlets on order have yet to arrive.
“Having Stefanie start a wrestling program at STM is very exciting for wrestling in the city,” said Sheldon Francis, coach of the defending OFSAA overall team champion Bishop Ryan Celtics.
Francis and West have both been inducted into the McMaster Athletics Hall of Fame. They were Mac’s Male and Female Athletes of the Year in 2006.
“I don’t think we could have asked for a better coach to help start a program at STM than Stefanie,” Francis said. “She is extremely knowledgeable in what it takes to be successful in high school and at the highest level, against some of the toughest opponents. Also, she is a very personable and positive individual that a lot of students gravitate towards. Having a coach with these qualities is needed when you are trying a sport for the first time.”
Source: Marnie Jadon