EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


January 15, 2007

Youths go to the mat before going to high school

HAVERHILL - In a room with padded floors at Consentino Middle School, David Guselli barks commands to pairs of elementary- and middle-school students who are locked in combat.

"Switch and sit out, switch and sit out," he repeats over and over. "To the shoulder, to the shoulder. You're going to the wrong shoulder. That's better. That's it."

Welcome to Haverhill youth wrestling.

Haverhill's program began 12 years ago with more than 30 young people. The city's Recreation Department ran the program, and young wrestlers hit the mats in the high school gymnasium. The program moved to the Boys Club for a while before finding a home at the former St. George's Church on upper Washington Street.

The church closed in 1998 and became a community center. Participation in the wrestling program trailed off, with about 16 young people learning the sport under the tutelage of coach Mickey Lawlor and his staff, which includes assistant coach Guselli and other former college and high school wrestling standouts. Then came another change. St. George's was sold to a developer two years ago, and the wrestling program had to find another home. It did, in a former wrestling room at Consentino Middle School.

Now, twice as many young wrestlers participate in the program, which is considered a feeder program for area high schools.

"We have four of our kids wrestling at Whittier Tech, one at Brooks Academy in North Andover, and about 10 of our kids wrestle for Haverhill High," said Lawlor, who lives in Haverhill and is a former high school wrestler. "They all got their start here. We have three team captains at Haverhill High and one team captain at Whittier. We just want to teach these kids the basics so when they get to high school, they can fine-tune them."

This wrestling has little to do with entertainment. It's the amateur style that proponents say builds strength and stamina of both body and mind. Parents of these young wrestlers often stay to watch the grueling practices, which involve sit-ups and push-ups, and stretching exercises for limbering up before they get into the nitty-gritty of takedowns, pins and half-nelsons.

"My son Trevyn heard about the program and wanted to sign up," said parent Steven Bonvie, 43, of Haverhill. "He had his first scrimmage a few weeks ago, and he did pretty well. Trevyn comes home tired after the workouts, but he really enjoys this. He's always talking about it."

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