Declining numbers challenge Marshwood wrestling


SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — Having won six of the last eight Maine Class A wrestling championships, Marshwood High School’s biggest hurdle to overcome this season will likely be itself.Screen Shot 2019-12-13 at 4.29.49 PM Screen Shot 2019-12-13 at 4.30.02 PM

Faced with declining participation in recent years, the Hawks start the 2019-20 campaign with eight wrestlers, down from last year’s starting number of 12.

A half dozen athletes have considered joining the team, but did not come out for one reason or another.

“You try to make it as fun as possible,” said second-year head coach Pat Howard, who wrestled at Marshwood and then was an assistant under coaching legend Matt Rix, who retired in 2018.

“But it’s a tough sport,” Howard said. “I’m not going to try and lie to a kid and say this is going to be a lot of fun; when your body is getting pounded on all the time.”

Of the eight on the team, three are back from last year: seniors Zach Mercier (heavyweight) and Carsen Goodwin (132 pounds), and junior Sean Moriarty (126).

A big loss was sophomore Aydin Rix-McElhinney, who decided to spend the year wrestling in Colorado Springs with Betterman Elite Wrestling Club, co-run by Matt Rix’s daughter, Deanna Rix Betterman (no relation).

The rest of the squad includes senior Christian Sacharczyk (170), who wrestled as a freshman, but took the past two years off; sophomore Ethan Boyle (160) and a trio of freshmen: Colby Isabelle (145, 152), Harry Lampesis (132, 138) and Rowan Carter (132, 138).

What’s disappointing for Howard is that there were eight potential freshman wrestlers coming in. But five decided not to go out.

Howard thought that finish might boost interest and draw in more kids, but it didn’t.

Marshwood, Noble and Massabesic have won 20 of the last 22 Class A titles.

“Even with eight wrestlers, you’re forfeiting six weight classes,” said Marshwood Athletic Director Rich Buzzell, who recently stepped down as a member of the MPA Wrestling Committee after eight years. “It’s scary. You’re two injuries away from (falling below the minimum allowed of seven wrestlers).”

Buzzell added, “We’re on the edge. All it takes is two injuries, sickness or illness.”

Howard said when he wrestled in the early 2000s, the team regularly had around 20 wrestlers.

At its height earlier this decade they had over 30; enough so they could field two teams to send to two different tournaments over a weekend.

Another former wrestler, Tom Howarth, was also involved coaching (and still is).

Their sons wrestled as well — Cody Hughes and Jackson and Luke Howarth.

Cody and Jackson were the same age. “They got their buddies to wrestle and all their friends and it spread,” Howard said. “A lot had to do with that.”

Thanks to Hughes, the Howarths and a bigger talent pool, Marshwood won four straight Class A titles from 2011 to 2015.

Cody Hughes is in his final year of wrestling in college at Virginia Tech.

All three Howarths are still involved helping the program with Luke serving as apaid assistant under Howard, while Tom is a volunteer assistant.

“But at the same time it is for everybody,” Howard continues. “You can be tall and skinny, short and stout; any of those guys can be a great wrestler. You don’t have to be a speciman athlete. I tell them that all the time. You just have to be mentally tough.”

Howard feels this current decline is a blip and he hopes more kids will start coming out in the next year or two.

“It’s tough to make a sport like this easy on the kids,” Howard said. “Kids don’t like being out there and they have to lose and they have no one to blame but themselves. That’s a tough pill for a lot of kids to swallow.”

Buzzell said some kids have a problem wearing the wrestling singlet, so some schools provide an alternative of shorts and a spandex shirt.

Buzzell also noted that many schools are experiencing the same problem. He said maybe four schools in Maine have 28 or more wrestlers and that’s it. One is neighboring Noble, the regional champ the past two years. The Knights have a robust 38 wrestlers according to their roster on the SMAA web site.

For now, the Hawks will have to make do. If more jump onboard that would be great.

“I’m working with what I have for right now and concentrate on getting those kids the best season possible,” Howard said. “I told them already, I don’t want you worrying about dual meet scores. Worry about your own individual goals. Team stuff will come later.”

Marshwood opened the season this past Saturday at the Westbrook Invitational.

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