Wrestling with life is sport

Friday, December 2, 2016
The members of the Marshall County Wrestling Club pose for a group photo. Tribune photos by Anthony S. Puca

Sports isn't a perfect world, there are many negative aspects that make it seem cold and self-centric, yet time after time there are those instances of sport making life's challenges a little bit better.

One of those better places was founded right here in Chapel Hill six years ago when longtime wrestling advocate Austin Montgomery saw a need, planted a seed and made it grow into the Marshall County Wrestling Club (MCWC).

Montgomery, a native Minnesotan was raised in an area in the United States where wrestling is a big sport and very difficult to compete in with everyone growing up in the tough mat culture.

Community service

Club founder Austin Montgomery (red) demonstrates a basic wrestling technique to the youngsters at the MCWC practice site at Horton Haven Christian Camp in Chapel Hill.

"A few years ago I took a look around the community and I said what skills do I have and I knew wrestling, so when I found Chapel Hill there was kind of a connectedness," Montgomery said. "I said hmmm...let's see, I know how to wrestle and there is not a lot of it here, so I will visit the high school and watch some matches and see where I could help and the best way we found to help was to get a club going with Chris' (Posey) experience and his family's experience in running high level clubs made it easier. It's just a community service for me, period."

Montgomery found the partner he needed to make his dream come to reality when the MCWC secured a location to practice and eventually host wrestling events, teaming up with Horton Haven Christian Camp.

"This camp is critical to the success of the club and without the camp's donation of the gymnasium space, the club would not have got started and would not exist," Montgomery said. "Their continued support in letting us use this space...almost exclusively...is the biggest part of why we have been able to do what we do."

Giving back

The MCWC gives back to the camp by working on service projects and exposing the venue to people that come from all over the mid-state to compete at wrestling events.

Matthew Phelan, president of Horton Haven Christian Camp talked about the formation of the partnership, his earlier familiarity with Montgomery and the importance of having the MCWC on site.

"About six years ago Austin Montgomery, who I had known because of other entities inside the camp, approached me about the need for a wrestling club so the younger guys could be ready for high school and we have this facility we use for our summer program, so he asked me about letting them practice here," Phelan said. "Marshall County has been so good to us, so we thought this would be a great opportunity to give back. To see these kids have successes here and at the high school level is very gratifying and Austin and Chris do a tremendous job."

Two of the younger wrestlers grapple at practice.

Montgomery is very grateful for what the camp has done for the youth and talked about how the MCWC gives back in appreciation to Horton Haven.

Horton Haven

"We help donate to their service volunteers at their spring 5K Trail Trek Run, but one of the biggest ways we have found to give back is to drive people into this campus to see that Horton Haven is here and to understand what it is," Montgomery said. "Beyond any donations or any service time, the biggest thing we can do is to expose the camp to new people."

The third partner in the venture is the Forrest High School wrestling team that has embraced the MCWC as essentially the only feeder program for the scholastic level.

It has worked beautifully as Rocket grapplers Wesley McCoy and Nick McClendon have both been members of the MCWC and are now also giving back their time to help coach the youngster at the club, who range in ages from kindergarten to eighth-grade.

MCWC coach Chris Posey (left) and former Forrest wrestler Hunter Watkins watch and guide the young wrestlers.

Former star

Posey grew up wrestling in New Jersey and finished in seventh place in the 135-pound weight level in the state tournament in high school and competed in Greco style wrestling, winning at the amateur national level before going to Campbell University in North Carolina where he wrestled for one year.

After college he had a couple of coaching positions and came to Spring Hill where he coached before moving to the MCWC.

"When they opened up this club, I noticed this town didn't have much wrestling, so me and Austin decided there was a need and it has been great," Posey said. "Kids like Wes (McCoy) started with us in like fifth grade and to watch him go all the way to state in high school is awesome and he still comes down here and helps us coach."

Micah McClendon (bottom), younger brother of former Forrest state champion wrestler Tyler McClendon, former FHS football standout Zach McClendon and current Rocket Nick McClendon is honing his skills at the MWCW in hopes of following in the footsteps of his siblings.

'A big family'

"I fully expect these guys that have come down here and gone through our program, once they get in high school, to give back a little bit. That's kind of what wrestling is, it's a big family."

Montgomery also talked about how a kid is developed and what it feels like to see them succeed, saying, "It's a tremendous amount of work and commitment to have a kid come in and to teach them from absolute zero and bring them up to a championship level is something that is very special. To watch them grow, have success, achieve confidence and then come back and teach the younger kids is how you create that culture. They will provide the model that drives these little kids to say, 'I want to be like that'."