On a Monday afternoon following the Super Bowl, 20 school age children ranging in age from 5 to 15 all gathered in the Seward High School wrestling room. The room provides a floor coated in two layers of cushiony hunter green and royal blue mats, and mats partway up three of the room’s walls. The evening’s practice began at 5pm, taking over the room immediately after the completion of cheerleading practice in the room. The wrestling kids were instructed to run laps around the gym, “go ahead and get started warming up,” instructed their Coach, Nate Smith. The group enthusiastically jogged the perimeter of the room also known as the mat room, then launched themselves into stretching, led by one of the older kids, Jaden Van Dyke, who serves as a junior coach. As stretching time came to a conclusion, Coach Smith rallied the kids around, going over core concepts of wrestling. “What’s your first line of defense” he asked the group, “Your hands” they answered. “And what are you trying to tackle” Smith asked. “The legs,” the group responded. This wasn’t the first time that they’d gone over these basic concepts, but it’s repetition served as a rallying time for the group.
The Marathon Miners are a club of local Seward school age kids who operate within the USA Wrestling framework. The Seward branch was started twenty years ago by Seward local Art Osborne, father of Jewell Williams. Williams works for the Seward Resort and has been influential in the club’s success. She explained that her father originally started the club for the sake of his son, Jesse Osborn, who went on to win a State Wrestling title in 1995. Over the years, the club disbanded and then resumed five years ago with the return of Art Osborn to Seward, in time for Williams’ eight-year-old son, Tony Smith, to participate.
In learning about the Marathon Miners, it became apparent how much of a force Art Osborn has been and how thoroughly he’s gotten his family involved. The lead coach is Nate Smith, spouse of Jewell Williams. Smith downplayed the lead aspect of his coaching role and spoke instead of the importance of his fellow coaches, of whom there are five: Rob Kurtz, Eric Higbee, Chris Schilling and Brian Mullaly, with occasional coaching by David Lorring. Smith went on to explain that the wrestling club has been able to thrive largely due to support from the Seward community, as well as grants from organizations, such as the Holland America Princess (HAP) grant that paid for the team’s uniforms. “The kids come in and get all geared up and we travel with them” [to tournaments] said Smith.
On that particular early February evening, Smith explained that the day’s practice would be a recap of concepts learned over the past few weeks, since their season began in early January. He explained that he seeks to build a team atmosphere out of what is competed in on an individual basis. Smith had spoken earlier of his desire to “take out the fear of losing” from the kids and as the practice progressed, he spoke to the kids as a group about this concept. “Are we okay with losing?” he chanted to the kids. “Yes,” they said. “Yes, we are,” Smith responded, “What are we not okay with,” he continued, “Setting ourselves up to for failure.”
The practice continued with kids on the mats, practicing particular wrestling moves, using sport specific language. “Pretend like you’re learning a new language and you’ll get it, said Karrie Brown, mother of eight year old wrestler Eric Withrow. She had also brought along Eric’s step-brother, five year old Robert Withrow. “I’m just trying to find something that Eric can be passionate for,” said Brown, as she encouraged the boys from a folding chair at the edge of the room. There were other parents present, watching and encouraging their children, both orally and through their presence. Parent Cody Gilmore explained that he values the discipline and sportsmanship that wrestling is providing to his son, Brett, who is in his second year with the Marathon Miners. “It kinda reminds me of when I was a kid” said Gilmore, “if they’re messing around, they’ll have to do push-ups and the coaches are amazing.”
The second hour of practice the wrestlers spar against each other in numerous “rings” that are painted onto the mats around the room. The kids get divided based on weight and age into groupings and take turns practicing using their bodies and implementing the moves that they have been taught. “You guys should be exploding when that ref says wrestle” Coach Brian Mullaly said. The kids were preparing for the first tournament of the season which will be held the last weekend in February in Soldotna. The team spends 4-5 nights together each week during the four month season that runs from January until April, practicing at the High School Monday, Wednesday and Thursday and then traveling to meets many weekends. The tournaments are held all over the state, and draw big crowds.
Seward will get the opportunity to host a Tournament the third weekend in March with teams from all over the state coming into town. They are estimating an attendance of 500-800 wrestlers, most of whom will be accompanied by their families. The participants will range in age from 5-95, with most of them in the school age range. The last time that Seward hosted a similar tournament, Seward was caught unawares, and some of the local restaurants ran out of food, as tournament participants are responsible for providing all their own meals and finding their own lodging. Club booster Jewell Williams hopes that by getting the word out early, that won’t happen again, and that instead, the hosting of this tournament will provide valuable economic opportunities to the community. In addition, the public is encouraged to attend the tournament, which will be held from 2pm-8pm on March 17th and 10am until 7pm on March 18th at the Dale R Lindsey Railroad Terminal. “If locals would show up and support these kids, it’d be a big deal” said Gilmore, gazing proudly out at the wrestling club.
More information about the Marathon Miners can be found on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Marathon-Miners-Wrestling-Club-262337975957/