Metro Wrestling Federation brings sport to local youth

The club hopes to help children and teens improve their skills and build a foundation for the Windermere High program.

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  • | 1:55 p.m. September 18, 2019
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When James Baker moved to Florida more than a decade ago, he brought his love for wrestling with him. 

Baker — a native Michigander — had grown up and competed in the sport for a good portion of his life, so needless to say, there was a bit of a culture shock when he arrived to the Sunshine State.

In Michigan, wrestlers start their sport early on as children, building a culture where a wrestling community can grow. In Florida, things are different. 

And that’s precisely why the head wrestling coach at Windermere High decided to keep the Metro Wrestling Federation going for its third session — although this time, he wanted to do something a bit different by adding a children’s club to the mix to build the sport.

“We’re trying to build the west side of the metro, to be competitive with the east,” said Baker, who also teaches 11th-grade AP U.S. history at the school. “The east right now is just loaded with clubs — there’s not a lot of middle-school wrestling down here, if any at all. Most of our kids’ first experience is in high school. … But we’ll take kids who are going to go to West Orange, we’ll take kids who go to Olympia — it doesn’t matter.”

Since it’s founding in 2017, the wrestling team at Windermere has offered an after-school wrestling club for its wrestlers — teams are required to operate as a club in the offseason. 

But as far as the newest addition of the youth club for children and teens from 5 to 14, participants will take in sessions over the next nine weeks in the school’s wrestling room. Everything from proper grappling techniques and footwork is taught at length to prepare students for a possible future in the sport.

So far, things have gone well for Baker, coach Aaron Drone and the high-school wrestlers who help during the club’s sessions. The children are having fun, and the coaching staff is impressed with their talents — some of which can be attributed to some of the children taking mixed martial arts classes.

“They pick up things so fast, and they just bounce up so quickly,” Baker said. “They have just so much energy. They absorb the information so fast, and these kids have no fears.”

Being fearless on the mat during club sessions is one thing, but fearlessness in competition can be much harder. Getting the children properly trained and ready for real matches is just one of the many aspects of the sport that the club sessions address.

“You can’t replicate the match experience in the room in any way,” Baker said. “Even if you’re brand new and advancing at a fast pace, once you go up against another team — against a guy who has been doing it since he was 6 — it’s a shell-shock.”

Along with preparing the new wrestlers on the mat, Baker hopes to do something even bigger for the program by building relationships and having a family-type atmosphere.

A winning program requires talented athletes, but being able to foster love for the sport — while having support around you — is the best way of developing a lasting foundation.

“It’s really rewarding, because I don’t know if there is a coach out there doing it for the money — especially with kids club, because we’re not getting paid for this,” Baker said. “And that’s where the family atmosphere comes from, because you see who wants to be a part of the program. The high-school kids that stay to work with the little kids — that tells me a lot about the character of our kids right now.”


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