How does one of the smallest school districts in the state, Manassas Park, which holds only 14,000 residents and 3,000 students, win five state high school wrestling team championships in eight years, including this year? Start small and focus.
For more than 10 years, wrestlers as young as 5 years old have began their training with the Cougar Wrestling Club. Meeting twice a week through the fall and winter in the Manassas Park Middle School special wrestling room, little cougars learn the ropes of amateur wrestling through the leadership of former Manassas Park champs.
The club was formed in 1999 by Richard Fitzsimmons, a two-time Virginia individual champion and then-coach of the Manassas Park High School wresting team. He coached championship teams for MPHS in 2004 and 2005. The club started small with only seven kids the first year. But by the second year, Fitzsimmons had enlisted Greg Jenkins, the first of a long line of state champs to come from the Park, to take over the club.
Jenkins started wrestling in fifth grade and won the county championship for Parkside. As an MPHS junior, he was runner-up for state champion but won the state title his senior year.
Since then, MPHS has garnered a list of state champions as long as your arm, and with great coaches volunteering to instruct the next generation of cougar wrestlers, that tradition is sure to continue.
It’s not all about the coaching, though. Behind the scenes, Jenkins' wife Linda is the brains of the operation.
Coordinating parent volunteers to work scoring tables, staff snack bars, track kids' registration and distribute information to families, Linda Jenkins and her volunteers keeps the program together while her husband and the coaches focus on the learning on the mat.
The cougar wrestling program begins in mid-November and ends the second week in March.
Practices are every Tuesday and Thursday from 6-8 p.m. The program is open to all kids ages 5 to 14, but non-Manassas Park residents are required to pay a little more. The club tries to keep the fee low so all kids have the opportunity to participate.
Participants will have the chance to compete in eight tournaments and the regional finals. Two of the events will be held in Manassas Park, and officiated by the MPHS wrestlers. Parents will donate food and drinks for the snack bar and volunteers will run a meet for hundreds of kids who come from all over Virginia to compete.
By the end of the season wrestlers will have had the chance to compete in at least 24 matches and maybe another three at the finals. Winning is nice, but mat experience is the biggest prize kids can take away from the program.
"The program’s ultimate goal get kids ready and knowing how to wrestle and win by the time they enter middle and high school. For many kids that will give them a chance showcase their wrestling ability and maybe get to college on a wrestling scholarship," Greg Jenkins said.
Information about this season can be found on the Northern Virginia Wrestling Federation website.