Team bonding through hard work: Mahar’s Rent-A-Wrestler program teaches discipline, raises money for sport
|Published: 11-13-2023 12:38 PM
Recommended cross-training activities for wrestlers include swimming, mountain biking and flipping tires. But John Speek’s grapplers have been known to spend the weekends leading up to their season raking leaves, stacking wood and moving heavy furniture.
It’s all part of Ralph C. Mahar Regional School’s Rent-A-Wrestler program that serves as a fundraiser for the wrestling squad formed 10 years ago.
“It’s a way to get their bodies moving around and stuff like that,” Speek said on Nov. 1. “I mean, that’s one of the things that we use it for, but also our team motto is ‘Sacrifice Brings Success,’ right? So we really pride ourselves on being willing to do the hard things. And it’s just a great indicator for me — when I see a new kid who’s coming on the team and I see how he’s working … I have a good sense of how he’s going to be on the mat as well.”
His wrestlers rolled up their sleeves on Nov. 4 and will do so over Veterans Day weekend. One of the Nov. 4 tasks involved removing the floating dock from the water at Billy Goat Boats, a family-run watercraft-rental company on East River Street.
“We generally have our regulars, who start contacting me in early October … saying, ‘Hey, when’s the sign-up sheet going to come out for (Rent-A-Wrestler)?’” Speek explained. He started the program about eight years ago and said it is a combination of fundraising, community service and cross-training.
Junior Leighton Soucie, who has been wrestling for three years, said removing the dock can be a challenge but it goes smoothly if all wrestlers work well as a team.
Jerry Whaland, who co-owns Billy Goat Boats with his wife Samantha, said someone with Mahar’s paddling club mentioned the Rent-A-Wrestler program and he has now used it for two years in a row.
“They are good, strong, re
liable manpower. The pieces of floating dock are quite large and quite heavy,” he said, adding that each piece requires about eight people to move. “I asked for 15 and I believe 15 is what I got. I didn’t count, but there was definitely an excess of hands there.”
Whaland pays the program $10 per hour, which he said is a steal. He also said the wrestlers show up on time and work like professionals.
“It was quick. It was clockwork,” he said.
Speek, who also teaches English at Mahar, explained the school allows group to hold fundraisers only once a year to prevent groups and teams from inadvertently competing against each other. He said he selects the weekends before and after Veterans Day because November is one month away from the start of the season and this gives wrestlers time to begin bonding as teammates. Also, by the first week of November, most tree leaves on the ground.
“It’s a lot of raking. I would say about 80% of everything that we do is raking, so (wrestlers) bring their raking gloves and stuff,” Speek said. “There’s wood-stacking. We’ve moved heavy things before, just random heavy stuff.”
The team’s expenses include more than uniforms and transportation — as most wrestling tournaments charge a participation fee in order to compensate referees, who are paid for each match, and organizers. However, Speek said, his program has always been very well supported by the school.
“All in all, it’s a reasonably expensive sport and so we just do our best to take that pressure off (the athletics department),” he said. “We love (wrestling), so if we love it we have to sacrifice for it a little bit.”
Speek said the team keeps a certain amount of money in reserve in case there is a wrestling opportunity that is too expensive for the school to support. On a more regular basis, the money is spent on league championship T-shirts, hotel rooms before sectionals, a media day where a professional photographer comes in to take photos of the wrestlers, rings for wrestlers who reach 100 wins, and clocks used in practice.
Kyle Magoffin, in his second year as Mahar’s athletic director, said the Rent-A-Wrestler program helps defray the team’s expenses and takes some financial burden off the athletics department. He said the program is unique and serves a distinct purpose.
“I think, first off, John does a great job of thinking outside the box for this wrestling program in general. I think this program is a just another way he wants to teach his kids that hard work gets rewarded. It reinforces what he teaches during the wrestling year,” Magoffin said. “I think (the wrestlers) like doing it. It’s hard work and wrestlers are no strangers to hard work. I think John is second to none. He really pushes the envelope of what he can offer. He’s really a champion for the sport and a champion for the kids in what he can provide for them.”
Riley Murphy, a ninth-grader who started wrestling in the seventh grade, said he probably most enjoys the sport’s camaraderie.
“You get really close as the season goes on, and (your teammates) are more like your family than just a team,” he said. “To some degree it’s a team sport, because all your scores go together at the end, (but) it’s just you against the other person and there’s nowhere to hide. It’s you against whoever else is across the way and (you’ve) just go to wrestle through it.”
Soucie said he enjoys wrestling because of the amount of work required to be successful.
“You know, if you slack off you’re not going to get anywhere,” he said. “You have to be the hardest worker in the room if you really want to improve, and like Riley was saying, it’s you versus another person. There’s no escaping. You’ve just got to go out there and give it your all.”
Junior Colby Chiasson, who started wrestling and also plays football for the Senators, said wrestling is likely the most physically-demanding sport and he appreciates the mano-a-mano aspect.
Ninth-grader Kamryn Hart briefly dabbled in wrestling and was not wild about the sport but fell in love with its sense of community. She now serves essentially as a team manager.
“She is my do-everything … manager,” Speek said. “There’s always so much to do in wrestling and I’ve in the past had somebody and Kamryn fills this role. She’s like a fourth coach. Any time I need anything done, I just say, ‘Kamryn, can you do this?’ She’s running for ice, she’s running our clock for us at practice, she’s running our playlist in practice when she’s DJ’ing practice and stuff.”
Speek said the fundraiser typically generates about $2,000 to $2,500 each year — $3,000 in a great year. He said 50% of the revenue goes back to the wrestlers in the form of gear orders that are not part of their uniforms. These items include T-shirts, shorts, bags and shorts.
Wrestling practice for the 2023-24 season begins the Monday after Thanksgiving.
Reach Domenic Poli at: email@example.com or 413-930-4120.