"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."
Many of Lawlor's veteran wrestlers had to move on when they graduated from eighth grade. He bolstered the ranks by bringing in some younger wrestlers, like Pentucket Lake fifth-grader Brandon Desjardins, 11.
"I signed up at Thanksgiving after my mom told me about it," Brandon said. "It's fun wrestling with other kids. But it's pretty hard."
Another newcomer, Golden Hill fourth-grader Daniel Surette, 9, knew all about the wrestling program. His older brother, Stephen, wrestled for Lawlor before moving on to Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School, where he's a varsity wrestler. His other brother, Nettle Middle School seventh-grader Shane Surette, currently wrestles for Lawlor.
"He weighs more than me, so I can't wrestle him here," Daniel said of his brother, "but I did at home. And I usually win."
Parent Heidi Yell usually stays for every workout. She likes to keep an eye on her son Travis, 12, who is in his second year as a wrestler.
"I think it's a great sport for younger kids," she said. "It's an opportunity to experience the sport before they get to high school."
Becoming wrestling ready
Calisthenics such as push-ups and sit-ups
Stretching to keep muscles loose and in shape
Wrestling drills to teach effective moves against opponents
Creative exercises such as one wrestler carrying another across the padded training area on his back
JUMP PG BOX
Haverhill youth wrestling
Total number of wrestlers: 30
Grades: Four through eight
Practices: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6 to 8 p.m., at Consentino School
Scrimmages: Saturdays in North Andover and Chelmsford
Program runs: Early December to mid-March
Fee: $35 per year