Youth wrestling gains popularity in Dunwoody
Nava-Breffle club busting at the seams
If there's a lesson volunteer wrestling coaches Jeff Warshaw and Gary Hammond have learned, it's careful what you wish for.
As coaches of Dunwoody's Nava-Breffle Wrestling Club, they dreamed of a day their youth club would gain wide-spread popularity. And now that it has, they're struggling for space and knowledgeable coaches to join them. They fear they soon might have to turn newcomers away if things continue to burst at the seams.
"We're running out of places to wrestle, but it's a good problem to have," Warshaw said. "It's been amazing, we could use a bigger facility, more coaches and more administrative help. We might have to consider placing a limit on kids we take next year or find more coaches or new gym space."
Begun several years ago to honor late Dunwoody wrestlers Louis Nava and Doug Breffle, who respectively were murdered and died in a car crash, the Nava-Breffle club was designed to promote wrestling among youths age 6-14 and become a feeder program for Dunwoody High teams coached by Ed Winterstein.
Unlike some club sports, cost to join Nava-Breffle remains relatively low: a $50 annual club fee, a USA Wrestling membership for about $35, and about $40 for a wrestling singlet, recycled among younger wrestlers as kids grew. Entry fees to weekend tournaments were pretty affordable as well, typically $15 or so, coaches said.
The club practices in Dunwoody High's gym after their high school counterparts – initially one night a week, then two and now three.
Just a few years ago, the club had only 17 participants. Last year it boasted 42 and now 63. To make practices manageable on only two mats, the club has divided into two roughly 20-wrestler groups of beginners, which practice on Tuesday and Thursday, and a 20-wrestler advanced group, which practices Wednesday.
"When we began," Warshaw recalled, "we were more like a kids' club. We'd wrestle for a little bit, then play basketball, wrestle for a bit, then throw the football around."
Now, with club having grown so, Warshaw and Hammond find it increasingly difficult to coach effectively.
"We're having really hard time giving individual attention and coaching the way we want to," Warshaw said. "It's a good problem to have, though."
The club is considering dividing further and practicing more nights weekly, or expanding to nearby Peachtree Middle or Dunwoody Elementary, among other places. But the coaches haven't begun looking formally into what's possible, and at potentially what expense. Even procuring more wrestling mats might be financially burdensome.
Nava-Breffle wrestlers have practiced some with a St. Pius club, and Warshaw and Hammond raved of the praise their club received there. Not only did others marvel at their club's growth, but they also remarked at their wrestlers' improvement.
"We got some e-mails with glowing reviews," Hammond said. "People were really praiseful of what we've been doing."
Hammond said success is greater as wrestlers get older. Understanding basic concepts is what's important for 6- or 7-year-olds, while middle school-age kids pride themselves on mastering more advanced techniques.
"Wrestling is a very mentally and physically challenging sport, and not everyone's ready for it at the same age," Hammond pointed out.
But perhaps the greatest accomplishments are celebrated at tournaments, where wrestlers' faces beam with excitement after succeeding.
"It's quite a spectacle to see 35-pound 4 year-olds out there," Hammond said. "In some tournaments there are 14 mats and 700 wrestlers. The beauty of wrestling is that the great equalizers are age and weight."