THORNDIKE — Inside the Mount View High School gym Wednesday night, a wrestling meet was about to take place.

On one side of the mat was Morse High School of Bath, which made the hour and a half trek north with a dozen wrestlers. On the other side of the mat sat both the Mount View and Maine Central Institute wrestling teams. If the Mustangs and Huskies had combined forces for the evening, they still would have had fewer numbers than Morse.

Many wrestling programs across central Maine are experiencing dips in numbers this season, thanks in large part to the coronavirus pandemic, coaches say.

The Maine Principals’ Association did not offer wrestling last season. Now, while the sport is back, programs are trying to recover from a lost season.

Nowhere was that apparent then Wednesday night, when 15 total wrestlers from MCI, Morse and Mount View competed in a tri-match.

“We really lost two seasons of junior high wrestling,” MCI head coach Mike Libby said. “This year, I have two sophomores and a senior. The two sophomores, they actually lost one year at the junior high level. So, I think that gap has really hurt us. Last year, there was a window there where we didn’t know if we would wrestle or not, and we had 15 or 16 kids in the room. We graduated a pretty strong class, but kids just really didn’t want to deal (with wrestling).”

MCI had three wrestlers — Keith Cook (132 pounds) Isaac Keresey (138) and Bryce Bussell (220). All three won their respective matches Wednesday night, and they’ve enjoyed strong seasons. Bussell, a Class B contender, enjoyed first-place finishes at the Westlake Tournament in Bath on Dec. 4 and the Nokomis Warrior Clash in Newport on Jan. 8.

Maine Central Institute’s Bryce Bussell, top, holds down Morse’s Braeden Webber in the 220-pound weight class match during a wrestling match Wednesday in Thorndike. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“There’s only three of us,” said Bussell, who won back-to-back matches over Braeden Webber of Morse and Garrett Dunton of Mount View via first period pinfall. “But us three, we get along together, we come to practice, we get ready to work. Even though we have a small team, we make the best of it. Even in tournaments, we still place, team points-wise. It just goes to show you, it doesn’t matter how many kids you have, as long as you’re willing to work hard. We were just talking, though, it would be nice to have a team of more than three to get team points up.”

The Mustangs had four wrestlers Wednesday.

“MCI, us, we’re in a position where we’ve lost ground, now we’re in a scramble to get it back,” said Mount View head coach Hamilton Richards, who is in his 28th season. “I don’t want to say we got hit the worst (from the pandemic), but we’re among the worst. We just have very low numbers compared to (other teams).

“It’s been challenging,” Richards said. “We have a number of underclassmen, so that’s good. I think in few years we’ll get momentum, so long as we don’t have another COVID-kills-the-season situation.”

Even Morse is dealing with lower numbers than a normal year. Head coach Mike Bennett said the Shipbuilders usually have a roster of about 18-20 wrestlers. But Bennett is excited about the future of his team.

“I only have one senior, a couple juniors and the rest are freshmen and sophomores,” Bennett said. “For the next two years, we’re going to be pretty tough because I’m only losing one kid this year and two next year. It looks good. Hopefully, COVID doesn’t hit us in the next couple weeks, because a lot of schools down south are remote learning right now. It’s hard telling what might happen, but maybe come regionals we may surprise some teams. We’re holding it together, but man, a lot of places aren’t.”

Despite the struggles, Bennett said the sport can come back to pre-pandemic numbers.

“It can (bounce back),” Bennett said. “It’s going to take five years, but it can bounce back, I think. But, we need the junior high (programs) to have a season. If it doesn’t have a season, the state is going to take a hit.”

Added Libby: “You see kids are just kind of worn down,. Going into a sport like wrestling — which is a tough enough sport as it is — and wearing masks and worrying about vaccines. I think it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. It just keeps piling up on these kids. Quite honestly, I started out with 10 kids. I think I only had eight in the (wrestling) room, at most. There were a couple that really surprised me that they didn’t come back.”

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.