The young and the wrestling

ATASCADERO — Atascadero Youth Wrestling hosted three teams from Paso Robles and the Meathead Movers team from San Luis Obispo on Tuesday at Atascadero High School for a wrestling jamboree and boys and girls as young as 4 years old engaged in the grinding tournament.

Joining Atascadero and San Luis Obispo were Lewis and Flamson Middle Schools and Smashmouth Paso Robles wrestling clubs for the five-program meet.

“My conviction is to do three things,” Atascadero Youth Wrestling coach James Cendro said. “To allow the community to see what wrestling is all about.”

Three mats were laid out, with a revolving door of winners and losers coming off the mats after shaking hands with coaches; but with every loss comes a lesson.

Each match was ended with a winner, either by pin or points, but the overall meet was not scored. It was an exhibition, and gave first-year wrestlers a chance to get on the mat with an unfamiliar opponent.

“It is more of an exhibition, and a chance to see what the youth is capable of physically,” Cendro said. “My club in particular have a lot of first-time wrestlers who are not ready for a state meet. It allows them to get time on the mat in an exhibition.”

There were plenty of experienced wrestlers as well, with varsity head coaches from Atascadero and Paso Robles high schools on hand.

“It provides seasoned wrestlers mat time as well,” Cendro said. “It allows coaches to coach kids one-on-one, because competing peers you don’t know is a lot different than competing against peers you practice with.”

About half-dozen girls were wrestling in the round-robin style meet, and were on par or better than the boys in their age ranges.

Two seasoned veterans — Thalia and Tiana Basulto — had been featured in an Atascadero News “Hometown Highlights” special in August 2014, and had almost three more years of wrestling in state meets since then.

They were unbeaten through the evening, and showed that the sport is wide open for girls who are ready to put in the work.

Coming away, whether the wrestler won or lost, to a boy or a girl, the goal was to give wrestlers the opportunity to challenge themselves and find themselves on the mat.

“That is the most important thing,” Cendro said, “creating a positive experience for the kids.”

About 70 wrestlers between preschool to 8th grade from the five clubs battled out on the mats in front of a full house at AHS.

“[AHS athletic director] Sam DeRose allows us to have the gym, and the high school wrestler Greg Hazelhofer supports by providing high school wrestlers or coaches or anything I need,” Cendro said, “because he understands the need for a strong program. It is like a family thing. Cruz Mendoza is a big help behind the scene. He helps with scoring and referees. It takes a family to put this on without a doubt.”

At the end of the day, through the swarms of wrestlers coming and going from mat to mat and back to parents in the stands, Cendro came away with a sense of success from the event.

“The kids got at least two matches,” Cendro said. “Some got three, some got four. Some had not gotten a match all season, so this being their first real match, they walk away with an experience. We coach out of love, and it’s not about wins and losses.”

For Atascadero, the youth wrestling season is over, and there is a reason for that.

“Wrestling is not a sport you can squeeze in between basketball and baseball,” Cendro said. “Trying to do both makes you less effective at each. We wrap it up so they can go onto other sports.”

Cendro also had some parting wisdom for the wrestlers.

“Wrestling is a great sport because you get out of it exactly what you put into it,” Cendro said. “If you work harder and train harder than anyone around you, it will show up in the matches. If you take shortcuts, that will show up as well. It takes coaches to come aside and use that as a coachable moment. We tell the wrestler to take the loss and let it make it better somehow.”

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