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Newcomers forge friendships on the mat

Lakenheath wrestler Jacob Brown takes down Alconbury's Vivian Newcomer during the first high school wrestling tournament of the season at RAF Alconbury, England, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016.

WILLIAM HOWARD/STARS AND STRIPES

By WILLIAM HOWARD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 3, 2016

RAF ALCONBURY, England ― One moment they’re hanging out with friends in the bleachers. The next they’re slamming an opponent on the mat. Or getting slammed themselves.

Thirty-eight wrestlers from four DODEA-Europe high schools ― Lakenheath, Brussels, AFNORTH and Alconbury ― got a clearer glimpse Saturday on how they’ll be spending much of their free time for the next several months.

The round-robin format – wrestling against everyone else in a specific weight class - served as a rite of passage first-time wrestlers filling a vast majority of each team’s roster. Coaches arranged exhibitions ahead of time to ensure that everyone got time on the mat.

While the morning weigh in may have been intimidating for some of the wrestlers, it was easy to see that by the end of the day a new community was building amid the physical bouts.

“Wrestling gives kids a chance who’ve had a mobile lifestyle to compete. They’ve all had transitions in their lives, they’ve all been on the outside of a team looking in and wanting to be on that team,” AFNORTH coach Greg Blankenship said.

Students such as Alconbury freshman Vivian Newcomer – very appropriately named in this case - who wanted to try wrestling and competed in her first two matches.

“I wanted to try something new and I wanted to challenge myself,” said Newcomer, who’s wrestling experience includes only 12 practices. “I did stuff today that I didn’t think I could do even a month or two ago. Even though I lost, I know I’m going to better for next week’s match and years after.”

The handful of returning veterans attracted attention from all of the new wrestlers and showed them how to take control during a match.

Alconbury’s Dee Wilson dominated at 170 pounds and Lakenheath’s returning DODEA European second-place finishers Joseph Krussick (182) and Preston Booth (138) did as well in their weight classes.

“During a match I usually keep an open mind and don’t try to predict any moves,” Wilson said. “When they’re wrestling on another mat, I try to watch and scout what they’re doing so I know what to defend against in our match.”

The matches became very emotional as coaches, teammates and fans shouted their support but wrestlers ultimately faced opponents alone and often learned the hard way just how much more they needed to train.

“When you step inside the white line there’s nobody but you and you get to evaluate how much you’ve done that week. You may not win but you’ll see the benefit of your work,” Blankenship said. “You’ll see that your competitors and other teams will encourage you as much as anybody.”

Lakenheath earned the team win with a score of 118, with Brussels coming in close second with 104.

howard.william@stripes.com

Lakenheath wrestler Joseph Medina pins Alconbury's Caleb Erikson to the mat during the first high school wrestling tournament of the season at RAF Alconbury, England, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016.
WILLIAM HOWARD/STARS AND STRIPES

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