Somers Point and Linwood wrestle with adding new team

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The Mainland Middle School Mustangs The Mainland Middle School Mustangs

LINWOOD--It took some teamwork but the Linwood and Somers Point school districts managed to pool their collective effort and put together a Mainland middle school wrestling program. The Mainland team is in its inaugural season and currently has a 1-1 record.

The team was about three years in the thinking and creating stage according to Linwood/MRHS Superintendent Tom Baruffi. 

“A few years ago I was approached at Mainland by Somers Point parents John Fitzpatrick and Al Becker about the idea of starting a middle school wrestling team,” explained Baruffi Thursday, Jan. 18.

Fitzpatrick has a son who wrestles at Mainland and a younger son attending Somers Point Schools and participates in this program. Becker has been involved with the local recreation wrestling program for many years.

Fitzpatrick and Becker explained to the superintendent that wrestling is popular with young kids and then the numbers drop off significantly around 7th and 8th grade and possibly creating a middle school program could pique their interest and that could provide a nice bridge to high school wrestling. 

“I kept that in mind, and after watching our wrestlers compete (or not compete) at the high school level, I realized that what they told me was probably accurate and Mainland would greatly benefit from a middle school feeder program. While winning isn’t everything, I do believe that we have an obligation to give our kids a “competitive chance,” said Baruffi.

Athletic Director Mike Gatley was asked to coordinate the effort and see if a feeder program could be developed cooperatively as the superintendent said he knew Linwood could not swing a wrestling program on their own.

Gatley reached out to Somers Point and Northfield and while Northfield could not entertain a new team at the time, Somers Point School District was optimistic about a shared team.

Linwood offered to take the lead and Brian Coyle, AD for the school district coordinates the schedules and also went looking for a coach.

David Wade is a fourth grade teacher at the Seaview School was chosen as the coach. He is also a seasoned youth wrestler.

Wade started wrestling at 6 and continued through high school where he was a three-time District 26 champion at 170 lbs and Region 7 champ at 170 and he qualified for Nationals at the junior college level. He now coaches his 7 year-old son who wrestles with the Galloway Mustangs.

Currently there are 17 wrestlers on the Mainland team; 11 from Linwood, 5 from Jordan Road School and 1 from Dawes Avenue.

One of the little glitches that had to be ironed out was finding a spot to practice and getting the kids there. Seaview School Principal, Susan Speirs offered her gymnasium for the after school practice. The MRHS bus that drops Somers Point students off at the end of the high school day picks the young wrestlers up and takes them to Seaview for practice. Matches are held at MRHS. “This is really a cooperative team effort,” said Baruffi and we are really excited about it, and so are the kids.”

The total cost of getting the team together is $5,328 and that includes transportation, uniforms, referee fee and the coaching stipend. Linwood and Somers Point are splitting the cost 50/50. “For under $2,700 per district we are able to bring a sports program together than any kid is welcome to come out and try. We have a lot of novice wrestlers,” said the superintendent.

There are four schools in Atlantic County  with wrestling teams; Mainland, Hammonton, Alder Avenue and Fernwood Avenue middle schools in Egg Harbor Township. Cape May County has three; Middle Township, Lower Cape May, and Ocean City and Cumberland County has the Millville Middle School. 

Wade said he and assistant coach Carmen Faia have met with Clayton Smith, the MRHS wrestling coach for tips and strategies. The school nurses have helped with weigh-ins and supplying first aid kits.

 Wade added, “It is really gratifying to see the kids learn each week, learn the language of the sport and to cheer each other on. I appreciate their parents that are there in the stands cheering and supporting the team.”

The next few years will tell the tale of the tape and gauge if the feeder program improved the wrestlers chances for success on the high school mat.

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