Merging has worked in other sports, why not wrestling, too?
As the 2016-17 high school wrestling season begins the landscape has changed a bit in the Niagara Frontier League as Kenmore West and Kenmore East have merged as one “Kenmore” team.
Though Ken-East’s numbers on the low side are the primary reason for the merger, according to the Ken-Ton School District, it’s the fact that the renovations currently taking place at Kenmore East High School that have left the wrestling practice room unavailable. So, rather than having to worry about shuttling kids to different locations and alternating gym space with basketball, the Bulldogs and Blue Devils will join forces as one team for the season.
“I knew coming in that coming in that they had some weight classes where they could help us. Ryan Ireland, especially,” said Kenmore head coach Bill Hineman, who had previously been coaching just Ken-West.
“I was hoping for one of their upper weights who wrestled real well, but he decided not to wrestle this year. As a group, with the West and the East kids, we’ve come together real well. The West kids have been very accepting of what’s happening. And the East kids, the ones that are still here, are accepting of it, too. We don’t stress the Blue Devils. We talk about being a Ken-Ton team. I stressed that from our first meeting on. Wrestling is basically a community. It’s not one team versus the other, as there are a lot of individual achievements that can happen.”
Merged teams aren’t exactly new in the district as field hockey and girls ice hockey have both merged, with both programs seeing success. Boys lacrosse and rugby have been united for years, both club sports. Which makes this the first official foray into merging boys’ varsity sports.
While the situation at hand makes perfect sense for the two programs to merge, the news of a combined team was initially met with mixed doubts on both sides of Colvin. In fact, a reported nine East kids either opted not to compete or had exited before November training camp was even over.
“At first I wasn’t so sure (because) of the rivalry and everything,” said co-captain Mitch Curry, a Ken-West senior who wrestles at 195 pounds.
“I didn’t think the people would get along, but its ended up working out.” Ryan Ireland, a Ken-East junior who will compete at 106, was also unsure of how the merged team would play out.
“It was a little upsetting,” Ireland said. “I know that a lot of my friends that I had on the team last year weren’t going to (return) because of that, but I’m actually pretty happy now because we get better practices now. More training partners.
Ultimately though Ireland said he just wants to get better and feels this scenario will help him do just that.
“It’s definitely feels like a team,” Ireland said. “It’s not two separate schools. I definitely like it a lot.”
Hineman said that this should be an excellent environment for Ireland, who he feels has a world of ability and potential.
Preparing for their first NFL meet this Wednesday, the Kenmore team has a breakdown of 25 kids from West and just three from East.
In addition to Mitch Curry, the team will also look to co-captain Robert Hengel, a junior who will go at 138/45.
“I look at someone like Robert Hengel who, in the off season, did everything he could to become a better wrestler. He’s come into the room and been a true leader here,” said Hineman, who added that Hengel has become more vocal and has taken the initiative to work with and help others. Especially the new kids.
Junior John Milks will wreslt at 152 and senior Dan Valvo at 132 pounds. East freshman Tim Hackney looks promising at 126 pounds.
Though Hineman confirmed that this is planned to just be a one year merger, it could potentially remain in effect if Ken-East’s numbers do not increase. Though it has not been officially mentioned as a possibility there is also an outside chance Ken-East could merge with NFL newcomers CSAT, which is seeing growing numbers in its modified wrestling program.
For now though, the focus is moving forward as one program and helping each other to be their best.
“With Kenmore East and Kenmore West together we’re not about two different schools or the rivalry,” Curry said.
“We’re just trying to get out and wrestle and do what we love.”