Exhange team gives Warrior wrestlers experience in international sport

By Jason Casey
For Lebanon Local

Wrestlers from South Africa visited the Mid-Valley last week for a dual meet in Sweet Home featuring Valley All-stars including three Lebanon wrestlers on Sunday, Oct. 8, in a cultural exchange wrestling program.

Rian Howard was the lone Warrior to win his match, but in these dual meets, the experience is what’s important. Lebanon Coach Matt Cox said he thought Howard looked more confident on the mat.

The night was full of good wrestling and cultural camaraderie. The two sides exchanged national flags signed by both teams.

“They’re staying with us, I think that is the coolest part,” said Howard. “I have two of them staying with me. It has been pretty fun.  We went and rode quads before we came here, just joking around having a good time.”

Tucker Drummond and Wyatt Richardson joined Howard competing against the South Africans. Other Lebanon wrestlers were busy with football season.

“Oh, this is awesome,” said Cox. “It’s a wrestling benefit because they’re getting more work in seeing different styles. The more you wrestle, the better you’re going to be; that’s the bottom line. But more importantly, they’re getting the cultural aspect, they’re getting to communicate with kids their age from the exact opposite side of the world, and it is awesome. I think it broadens their horizons.

“It is just a great experience, and whenever I can bring that to Lebanon, I try to. We had the Swiss here last year, the year before that New Zealand, we’ve had Japan and Russia. It’s a lot of work for me, but it’s a great opportunity for our kids and our community.”

Cox said he thought that the South Africans were above-average skill-wise, compared to the other cultural exchange teams.

Food appeared to be a favorite attraction for some of the South African visitors.

Heavyweight Marchiel Grobler noted that he thought Subway had “very nice food – pretty cool.” Mariska Van Tonder loves nachos, which they don’t have in South Africa, she said.

“It’s just a great event,” said Cox. It was nice that we could work together with Sweet Home. Usually, we get them, or they get them. This was the first time that (Sweet Home Coach) Steve (Thorpe) and I worked together and part of that is pure numbers. They brought more kids than most teams bring.

“But I’ve been in Lebanon for 12 years now, and he’s been in Sweet Home for about a century I think so it’s good to work together.”

Thorpe, who chairs the Ore-gon Wrestling Association, also thanked Lebanon.

“I would like to say how much I appreciate the Lebanon wrestling community for helping host,” he said.

South African Coach Tobie Alberts said the cultural exchange gives his wrestlers exposure and competition they don’t get at home.

“We want to better these kids’ wrestling skills and get them ready for future trials and competitions to be competitive to build some confidence and to learn a different culture of wrestling because every continent has got a different style,” he said.

The South Africans brought 17 wrestlers, mostly Cadet division, and two coaches for competition in both freestyle and Greco-Roman, both Olympic styles of wrestling. Alberts said they are preparing for their own national trials, in two weeks.

The kids have to work hard to be the national champion,” he said.

“Some of these kids haven’t yet been the national champion because they get to the river and can’t cross it because of stress, self-esteem, and confidence so we are trying to build that.

“When you are born, you have to fight to get your first breath, so we are very competitive. If we lose, we try to fix it for the next competition. Winning isn’t always everything, it’s a learning curve for some of these wrestlers. We just want to be good competition and give our best.”

In Sweet Home they faced a Valley All-Star team included that wrestlers from Lebanon, Sweet Home, Albany, Corvallis and Central Linn.

The visitors made stops in Newberg and central Oregon before arriving in east Linn County, then moved on to Tillamook, Thurston and Eugene.  While here, they got a chance to visit high school classes and got a tour of a logging site, along with other local attractions.
Grobler said he hoped to learn “new techniques and get new experiences to get better at wrestling because wrestling in Africa has to grow. It has to get better.”

Van Tonder said she wanted to learn new things.

“The wrestlers here are very strong and very fast with different techniques,” she said. “There are some techniques they know that we don’t know, so I was hoping we could exchange before we leave.”
Wiets Behr, the South Africans’ smallest wrestler, who lost to Howard in a 46-50-kilogram bout,  echoed the desire to learn.

“There is much more wrestling here because you have it as a school sport and we have it as a club sport,” he said. “I need to experience something and tell my club what I’ve learned here to share with them.”