Julia Malakie / Lowell Sun
Chelmsford”s Evan Kinney raises his hand in victory after defeating Haverhill”s Ben Davoli in the 106-pound championship match at the Division 1 state tournament on Feb. 16 at Methuen High School.
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During my high school years with the Monty Tech wrestling program, I often wished there were more teams in the region.

Besides the Bulldogs, out that way there were only two other local programs: Leominster and Nashoba Regional.

That fact felt, and still feels, like a missed opportunity. The sport of wrestling still has so much to offer local athletes, and there are plenty of reasons for high schools to work toward investing in programs of their own.

The effort pays off

Anybody who knows me will tell you I’m a horrible athlete. In middle school, however, I discovered wrestling, and it changed my life. I had found a sport that truly was all about how much work you were willing to put in. If the effort was there, you would be successful.

For kids who want to be part of something, but lack the size, speed or coordination to excel at other activities, a sport that separates athletes into weight classes and relies as much on dedication as natural ability is a perfect fit.

A different winter sport

After the fall season ends, football players are told to either start lifting or find a winter sport. Since some can’t shoot a basketball or skate to the level of their peers, lifting it is.

Wrestling gives these players a different way to keep in shape and keep that competitive mindset during the winter season.

Many professional football players credit wrestling for their success on the gridiron. Included among those ranks are Balitmore Ravens legend Ray Lewis and former New England offensive lineman Stephen Neal, who never played NCAA football and was actually a world-champion wrestler before moving on to a career in football, where he won three Super Bowls with the Patriots.

Hall of Fame coach John Madden once said he would have all his offensive linemen wrestle if he could.

What about co-ops?

But what about the co-ops, you ask? Wouldn’t existing programs be weakened by losing wrestlers from other schools currently on the roster?

Thanks for speaking on this, reader. Sure, co-ops would be cut and some schools would lose a couple wrestlers, but, hey, that’s what recruiting is for.

For one, wrestling at their home school would give these athletes more time to train, with less travel involved in simply getting to practice. What’s more, additional programs would make the sport part of the area’s established rivalries.

A new sport to cheer for

If you grew up in this area, then you know fan culture around here runs deep. Whether it’s the North Middlesex Trench showing up in force to every football and basketball game, the Lunenburg Dungeon cheering its hearts out, or any other dedicated fanbase eager to root for their local squad, another sport means more reason to celebrate.

With a sport as intense as wrestling, it would be great to see that kind of fan intensity. Plus, almost any wrestler will tell you they wish they had more supporters at their meets.

Creating champions

Obviously, not everybody can wear a gold medal around their neck at the end of the day, but Dan Gable, one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, once said, “after wrestling, everything else in life comes easy.”

In that sense, every wrestler who sticks it out will be a champion in the ways that matter most.

Every longtime wrestler I’ve spoken with has counted the experience among the most influential parts of their lives. Often I hear that it was one of the hardest things they’ve ever had to do, and, after they endured and stayed committed, they now know they can get through anything.

More student-athletes deserve to know that feeling.

Dennis Begley is a correspondent for the Nashoba Valley Voice and a former high school wrestler.