In areas of the state like Brandon, Oviedo and Miami-South Dade, wrestling has reached its pinnacle. What those places have that Spring Hill lacks is a culture. That's what Eric Swensen and the Spring Hill Wrestling Club are trying to create.
In an interview with FloWrestling.com a couple months back, legendary Brandon coach Russ Cozart said, "Tradition is something that happens every minute." The tradition of achievement is much easier to maintain when the next generation of wrestlers is always waiting in the wings.
Jordan Rivera, 12, is a prime example of that culture. Rivera is the last in a family that has enjoyed much success at Springstead. His brothers include Matt Booker (former state champion), Nate Booker (fourth in single-season freshman victories) and Thad Klenovich (2008 state qualifier).
Rivera's been around the mat since he can remember. His uncle, Chris Soto, is an assistant in the program and Soto has two sons in the Springstead program, Nick and Dustin Soto.
The club is what Swensen, in his four years since becoming Springstead High's coach, has tried to organize. This season seems to be the peak of that effort.
"Our goal is to make the sport fun while also exposing these guys to the fundamentals," Swensen said. "If they can develop early, this area will begin to compete with other top programs."
Josh Herrera, a fifth-grader at Suncoast Elementary in Spring Hill, is now in his second year in the club. He has already risen to the top levels, winning the Novice 80-pound championship at the Spring Hill Wrestling Folkstyle States Warm-Up Tournament on March 1. He was among 25 Spring Hill members to compete.
"Every time I go out there, I feel like I put more heart and effort into my matches," Herrera said. "I love throwing people and facing some of the best teams in the state."
The club enjoyed accomplishments that have coaches thinking the future is bright. Of the local contingent, 14 wrestlers took home first place championship medals including two eighth-graders and five others not yet in high school.
Much of the credit for the advancement of this young group goes to the coaching staff. Swensen helps run practices for wrestlers from fourth grade and above while Louis Kachiroubis takes care of the third-graders and below. Sal Basile, Soto and David Ross also assist with practices and tournaments.
With the organization and physical nature introduced, many of those youths exposed at a young age immediately take to the mat.
Matt Landgraff, a fifth-grader at Chocochatti Elementary in Brooksville, competes at the Novice 80-pound Division. His older brother Shawn, a Springstead freshman, and his younger brother Chase, a first-grader at Chocochatti, also are members of the club. He came in second place at Spring Hill Tournament this past Saturday and Sunday.
"I plan on taking wrestling as far as I can and just keep improving everyday," Landgraff said. "I work hard to get better and do well at every tournament I go to."
That dedication rings true for almost every one of the 67 current members of the Spring Hill Wrestling Club. In time, the passion could translate into making the sport a staple in the area.
Submit feedback, story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.