“Squeeeeeeze,” a chorus of middle schoolers shouted at their friends on the mat in a school gym packed with kids, coaches and parents.
“There’ll be over 400 matches in the next two days,” Jim Thompson, principal at Floyd Dryden Middle School, said Friday. “We’re standing room only.”
Floyd Dryden is hosting the 2020 Southeast Alaska Middle School Wrestling Championship, which saw over 230 wrestlers face off in hundreds of matches Friday and Saturday. Matches were held two at a time to accommodate the large number of bouts.
“So far, we’re doing OK,” Ken Brown, head coach at Floyd Dryden, said Friday afternoon. “We’ve got a lot of first-year wrestlers that are doing really well. All and all, it’s a pretty amazing bunch of kids.”
One first-year wrestler, though not from Floyd Dryden, was 8th-grader Conner McKenzie, 13, from Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School. Though it was only his first year wrestling, McKenzie said he was really enjoying the sport.
“It has so many great opportunities,” he said. “You get to spend so much time with your friends and your team.”
Is he going to wrestle in next year in high school?
“Definitely,” McKenzie said.
Floyd Dryden was not just playing host to the tournament, but to the hundreds of students and their family members. People were sleeping throughout the school at night, Thompson said, and local families and community groups were providing food.
“It’s all be a community effort,” Thompson said.
Billie Younce traveled from Wrangell with her daughter, Lily, for the tournament.
“It’s great,” Younce said. “There’s a lot of supporters out here. You couldn’t have asked for a better turnout.”
Younce and others visiting Juneau flew here by plane. Normally, they would have taken the ferry but the Alaska Marine Highway System currently only has one ship running.
That made the trip cost more, but the team raised money through fundraisers, a local church made donations and the parents themselves covered some of the costs, Younce and her daughter said.
The younger Younce, Lily, said she had been wrestling since pre-school.
“Since kindergarten,” he mother corrected her.
“Since pre-school,” she insisted.
Asked what she liked about wrestling, Lily fired back, “Everything.”
Lily was traveling with her team from Stikine Middle School in Wrangell. She was one of three girls on her team of 18. Her favorite thing about wrestling: making new friends.
Wrestlers came from nine communities from Southeast Alaska for the tournament. Hoonah, Naukati Bay, Ketchikan, Metlakatla, Gustavus, Sitka, Skagway, Wrangell and Craig.
The tournament was organized by Floyd Dryden Assistant Coach Chris Heidemann. Asked what it took to put together such a large tournament, Heidemann said, “I don’t know. Hours. Lots of hours.”
Heidemann said the effort took about a month’s worth of work for all the coaches but seeing it all come together, “It’s awesome,” he said.
“It’s a cool experience for the kids,” Heidemann said. “At this age it’s not so much about the wrestling, but they’re meeting all their Southeast community. So these kids are gonna have friends in all these communities. That, to me, is more important.”
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or email@example.com.