Stafford Wrestling a pipeline for future stars

By BRIAN WRIGHT For the Stafford County Sun

Stafford County Sun

All great athletes start with an early influence. For wrestlers in the area, many start as part of the Stafford Highlanders Wrestling Club.

This nonprofit, which was founded in November 1994 and is a member of the Northern Virginia Wrestling Federation (NVWF) as well as the Capital Area Wrestling League (CAWL), is comprised of around 150 kids that range from ages 5-15.

And, according to head coach Troy Heitchew, the team is continuing to grow in proficiency as it heads to the official start of its 20th season this November.

“We are the largest team in the federation after merging with Quantico’s team,” he said. “We are having a new practice facility built that should be ready by 2016 and we are working toward making this a year-long program. It helps to have such a great pedigree of former wrestlers that can make this possible.”

The impact of this program is felt on the next level. Two local high school teams ranked among the top wrestling schools in the state—Colonial Forge and Mountain View—are comprised of former Highlanders. Other alums are now in college programs.

“We teach the same fundamentals that are taught on the high school and college level,” Heitchew said. “That is you why you see our wrestlers do so well later on.”

Not only is the quality of wrestling superb, but the quantity of wrestlers is also quite impressive. The program is co-ed, and there were eight girls on last year’s squad. Of the around-150 kids who participate, Heitchew said that several families have relocated to Virginia—and the Stafford area, specifically—with heavy emphasis on the state’s positive reputation.

“I believe Stafford is the forgotten oasis of wrestling,” he said.

This reservoir of talent is not just shown in the success of the youth programs, such as the Highlanders, and the high schools and colleges that regularly win championships, but also in the adults that instruct the basics of the sport.

Heitchew, ready to embark on his first year as the team’s head coach, isn’t alone. All the kids get a wealth of instruction from invaluable sources, including former Olympian wrestlers.

“There is no such thing as too much support,” said Heitchew, who has two sons—Ethan, 11, and Gavin, 8,—on the team.

Learning from within is just as vital. Unlike a team sport, wrestling is an endeavor where you are the only one to blame for your misdoings on the mat.

“That’s a very introspective thing about wrestling,” Heitchew said. “It’s all on them. Before the first tournament, a lot of the kids think they’ve got it all down and they’re unbeatable. Then they lose. And they can’t point the finger at anyone else. With that, they know they need to get better and become much more focused for the next match.”

Attaining a wealth of experience in skill and self-confidence occurs for participants of all sizes. As the tournaments are divided by age and weight, each wrestler plays an equal role in the team’s overall success—certainly a great lesson to learn.

“The littlest person is just as important as the biggest guy,” Heitchew said. “Each player has the same amount of significance in a team competition. And when you have kids that realize that, it builds tremendous camaraderie. They all pull for each other.”

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