It all started in the 1950's at Pyle's Gym, then the Moose Jaw Wrestling and Barbell Club, then the Moose Jaw Wrestling Club and finally today where it is known as the Moose Jaw Kinsmen Wrestling Club.
Over the years it had some locally iconic names, such as Bob Reid, George Reid, Justin Abdou and of course Montreal Olympics fifth place finisher Terry Paice as members - to name just a few.
People who put Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan permanently on the Canadian wrestling map.
Today's version may have shed the barbells from yesteryear but the Moose Jaw Kinsmen Wrestling Club carries on that tradition. A tradition of dedication designed to not only improve fitness, balance and confidence but one where everyone no matter what their skill level everyone is welcome.
Located at 461 Athabasca Street East, the club has a dedicated wrestling facility in the building which once housed the Moose Jaw Sash and Door Company. Coach Kelly Busch said the club has a philosophy no matter what a child's ability everyone is welcome.
“It's an individual sport and anybody can do it. Hockey is limited to ability and everything else. Here it is what you put into it is what you get out of it,” Busch said.
He said there were children who were not athletic when they first started wrestling but with work they were able to do somersaults and other things they could not do before.
“We try to make it available to any age, any sex, any skill level, anything you are welcome in this room. We have had kids that are very unathletic in ability and by the time we are done with them they have the ability and confidence from it. That is what I am proud of.”
Although it is a wrestling club, there are wrestlers who are in other activities such as dancing and hockey (goaltending) and they report wrestling helps improve their performances in other activities.
“Pound for pound it is the most physical sport you are going to get into. It uses every muscle group…no other sport does the amount of exercise and use the amount of energy that wrestling does,” Busch said.
Unlike other sports, which can run into the thousands of dollars a year, club wrestling costs about $200 including all fees including tournaments. Special shoes cost about $100 - $200 for new ones but the club has plenty of good used pairs available.
“A lot of the parents will pick up a new pair, if they don't there are tons of pairs here. There are a lot of hand-me-downs. We have been doing this for a lot of years. A lot of stuff is getting traded back and forth between parents,” coach Rob Villeneuve “We want everyone to be able to come to it regardless of their parent's incomes,” he said.
“The costs are very high but we give the families the opportunity to fundraise to bring the costs down to a reasonable amount. If they need more help Rob (Villeneuve) do what we can. We don’t want to turn anybody away,” Busch said.
At the present time, the club has 75 – 80 members starting from age five and up.
The facility is not just for the club itself but all three high schools run their wrestling programs through it.
The club keeps fees low and affordable through fundraising, dedicated coaches, volunteers, sponsorships and help from the Moose Jaw Kinsmen Club.
Both coaches have nothing but accolades for the Kinsmen whose financial support not only paid the majority for the mats used for training and competition but also with funding to help run the program.
“The Kinsmen for the last 10 years or so, if not longer, have stepped up big time. And help from an organization like that has made it so we are able to train in a room like this,” Busch said. “We use to train in rooms we were able to rent, the basement of a church or a school drama room and we had to work around their schedules,” Busch said.
One of the major factors behind the strength and longevity of wrestling in Moose Jaw has been wrestling alumni pitching in over the years and serving as coaches so others athletes coming up learn the skills.
Both Villeneuve and Busch were wrestlers with the club in their younger days and now give back to the club.
“It all started off with guys like Terry Paice that had a good work ethic and were good leaders and good teachers and then passed it on to other coaches and it just kept rolling along,” Villeneuve said.
Busch pointed to Paice, who, after his Olympics wrestling career, over-trained a bunch of kids at an elite level who “kicked butt all over the (United) States who grew up to be good coaches” as key to Moose Jaw's program today.
When he was only 13 years old, Paice won silver in the provincial open men’s championship and today is in the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame.
Paice is still involved doing construction work to make the facility they have what it is today.
Wrestlers in the past likely did the same passing the skills back to others ensuring the longevity of wrestling in Moose Jaw.
FUTURE OF WRESTLING
Coach Villeneuve said if they had a larger facility they could easily train more kids.
“If we had a bigger facility we could double our membership. But we have got that balancing act of paying for a facility and keeping the membership fees down for everyone,” he said, adding “right now we have a facility that fits our budget and we are trying to keep the sport affordable for everyone.”
The combined high school and club wrestling program, although not unique to Moose Jaw, is seen as a strength. Athletes from all three high schools train and get along together unlike football and other high school sports which are specific to each high school.
Busch said the real determining factor about the longevity of wrestling in Moose Jaw was “as long as we have people willing to coach the sport will continue.”
Both Busch and Villeneuve are encouraging former wrestlers including their own children who have been in the program to give back by becoming coaches.
The growth of wrestling at smaller rural centres seems to ebb up and down but there are some good smaller rural wrestling programs and wrestlers which both coaches see as a positive for the sport. Towns such as Rosetown and Elrose having programs offers more competition and opportunities.
To help build the sport locally the club runs training clinics on select weekends where they bring in coaches and special guests from other areas to help teach the kids more skills. The clinics are free of charge and wrestlers frfom other communities are welcome.
Female wrestling is a major growth area for the sport with lots of opportunities for female grapplers.
“Right now female wrestling is hitting a high and in the (United) States it is just starting to click in. There are a lot of universities that have just included female wrestling into their programs. I think that females have a definite advantage getting into university programs,” Busch said.
The closure of the wrestling program at the University of Regina has been a blow because many Moose Jaw athletes would go on to university wrestling in Regina.
“They did a lot of work taking kids from the rural areas now we are limited to Saskatoon as far as Saskatchewan. Unfortunately we have got athletes who may go there and leave the province all together,” Busch said.
Other challenges are on a higher level as amateur wrestling does not get as much televison coverage as other sports due.
On a positive note though, the purchase of more tournament mats through funding from the Kinsmen has the upcoming Moose Jaw meet February 8th and 9th expecting over 100 more athletes competing this year.