The NVSS wrestling program has been a popular extracurricular activity in Vanderhoof since the early 70s and decades later they are still going strong and achieving some great results for the community.
Travis Himmelright, a teacher at NVSS, has been running the wrestling program for the last nine years.
He grew up in Hazelton, where they have a strong high school wrestling program. From there he got a scholarship to Simon Fraser University.
After wrestling through university, he became a member of the national wrestling team. However as a result of a series of injuries he was forced to retire from competitive wrestling after a couple of years, and became a teacher instead, going back into the sport that way.
At the moment, Himmelright has been heading two teams – the high school team and the elementary team.
The high school team, which runs all year round, allows any student from grade 8 to grade 12 at NVSS. And the elementary team, which was running every Wednesday at NVSS since November until just a couple of weeks ago, but has now finished for the school year. The elementary team included students from all elementary schools in the Vanderhoof area.
The NVSS team has an average of eight competitors, a relatively small group, however, despite their size they have come back with some great results.
Before Christmas they placed second as a team in two competitions. At a recent competition in Smithers, all of the athletes brought back medals including two golds, three silvers, and three bronze. As well as some fantastic team results, Himmelright says he has some individual athletes who are extremely talented.
“I’ve got a young girl in grade eight Kayia Conniff, and she’s lost only one match this year and won 13.”
“I have another grade 12 student, Harley Harper, he’s only lost one match this year and both of them went down to Kamloops in mid-January for what they call the Western Canadian Age Class, which includes schools from all over western Canada,” said Himmelright.
“Harley ended up getting bronze after he lost a very close match to the champion of the competition, who is ranked first in the province,” he said.
He added that they are looking to knock him off the podium at provincials, which take place on the last weekend in February.
Conniff was the Western Canadian Champion and so went undefeated in her age group.
On February 5 and 6, six members of the NVSS team headed to Edmonton for the Golden Bear Classic at the University of Alberta, bringing home three medals with them.
The Golden Bear is the largest competition held in Alberta attracting over 800 athletes from BC and Saskatchewan.
Conniff won a bronze medal in the 60 kg division, Matt Scott won bronze in the 56kg division, grade 11 student Chris Wilson won bronze in the 59 kg division.
The next challenge for the NVSS team was the zone championships which took place this past weekend in Quesnel.
In order to make it to provincials which go ahead in Abbotsford in two weeks time, the boys had to place in the top four and the girls had to place in the top three.
“I think that Harley and Kaiya in particular have a good chance at the provincial level, and I think they all have a good chance at the zone level,” said Himmelright before the competition.
“I’m hoping for a top three result – we’ve never placed lower than top third, but this is the smallest team I’ve had to work with,” he said.
According to Himmelright, the rising costs of extracurricular activities at school have played a big part in the reduction in team sizes in wrestling and many other sports.
“The cost of travel has gone up … and with a small team it means it costs more per person,” said Himmelright.
“The school district has had to trim a lot, and we see that trickles down to the student ultimately.”
“If you go to the United States for example, athletics is free,” he said.
“You get your uniform and your travel and accommodation covered – you just play ,and the coaches are paid.”
“Here it’s voluntary for the coaches, and the athletes are responsible for their own uniforms and their own travel and everything, and it can get very cost prohibitive,” he added.
Himmelright estimates it costs a student around $1,500 a year just to compete in athletics and the result is less kids get involved.
“It adds to that sedentary lifestyle … because parents can’t or don’t want to afford it because it’s cheaper to get an X-box,” he said.
Despite a reduction in numbers, Himmelright says he’s optimistic that the team is growing again, especially since 32 kids turned out this year for the elementary wrestling camp.
“I’m hopeful that next year, many of the grade sevens who were in the elementary program, will now come into the high school and already feel they’re a member of the team,” said Himmelright.
He also feels that the NVSS team has a unique facility at the school which helps them a lot.
“The mat room is probably one of the best facilities in northern B.C. and its a pretty unique environment given that kids can roll around and bounce off the walls so to speak.”
“It’s a padded room so it gives them exercise that’s different from the norm – it’s not running up and down the court,” he said.
As a sport, Himmelright says students can progress and set their own limits and goals. He said he sees many positive spin-offs for students who take part.
“Some of the spin-offs that I see from wrestling are – greater confidence and strength and endurance – it’s really neat to see the kids progress,” he said.
“Some of these elementary kids were grade one and if they stick with it until their grade 12 they’re usually very skilled and very accomplished athletes … we had a kid last year who was fourth at nationals but unfortunately blew his knee on the football season – Sheldon Connif – but we hope to have him back next year.”
“I’m hoping this year we can get our first provincial champion for a long time – we haven’t had one since 1996,” he said.