Battle Ground High School hosted a wrestling tournament on April 16 as over 500 students from multiple states came to grapple on the mat.
BGHS wrestling coach Karl Johnson was happy to see the return of a large-scale tournament after they were put on hold for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Johnson is also a coach and the director of the Southwest Washington Wrestling Club.
“We’re just trying to get wrestlers to be better,” said Johnson. “We’re rebuilding wrestling post-COVID. It’s coming alive, and it’s a lot of work because I really am trying to get athletes out of their houses and this depression of COVID.”
Johnson said the tournament incorporated Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, which each had their own respective tournaments. The tournament featured eight mats with matches running concurrently.
He said the tournament was also able to raise $16,000 through donations and concession sales, which will allow the school to purchase another mat for competitions.
“There was $5,500 in direct donations from the community. We have people that are wanting to invest in our athletes at all levels, and so I’m dedicated now to being a manager of wrestling year-round and getting these kids out,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the tournament ran smoothly, despite a few minor hiccups.
The tournament was dedicated to Merle Crockett, who Johnson said ran a similar-scale tournament at BGHS that featured “Olympic qualifiers.”
“After (Crockett’s) tournament, he developed health issues, so when I brought it back, everybody felt it was an endearing tournament,” Johnson said.
Johnson said Merle attended the tournament that took place on April 16.
“He was very happy with what we did,” he said. “(We had) wrestlers from everywhere.”
For individual wrestlers, Johnson highlighted senior Gunnar Henderson, sophomore Braeden Munson, and freshman Landon Punua.
Henderson was the champion in both the Greco-Roman and freestyle brackets, while Munson placed in the top three for both events. As for Penua, he placed third as well.
“The whole thing with wrestling is you have to grow in the off-season in some way. To do that, it’s about matches,” Johnson said. “A lot of these guys are new to this idea of just getting matches, winning or losing. But they’ve bought into it now.”
Johnson said practicing in the off-season may not be fun, but he noted the wrestlers are dedicated to that, which will make them better.
Johnson said he’s optimistic that some of his wrestlers will place in the top three at upcoming tournaments. The Washington State Wrestling Association state tournament is set for May 7 and May 8.
Wrestlers who place at the tournament will then move onto the Fargo Junior Nationals tournament in North Dakota from July 15 to July 22.
“I think we have a lot of new wrestlers, but we have a lot who qualify and will go,” Johnson said. “If they don’t make it, there’s other tournaments and camps in the summer we can hook them up with.”
The Southwest Washington Wrestling Club runs on Mondays and Wednesdays from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and Tuesdays from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. for new wrestlers.
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