New Murray junior high wrestling club exceeds expectations
Coach Todd Thompson (left) created and coached this first team of junior high wrestlers this winter. (Todd Thompson)
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“Since Murray had never pulled together a junior high wrestling team before, I wasn’t sure how it would go. But these kids were dedicated, worked hard and exceeded expectations. Nearly half of them had never wrestled before.”
That’s coach Todd Thompson’s assessment after completing his first (and probably only) head coaching season with the Murray Spartan Junior High Wrestling Club. Near the end of the season, Thompson was named the new Murray High head football coach, which he knows will cut into his time.
“Both my sons are on the wrestling team, so I’ll be around.” Thompson said. “But someone else will probably have to take over the head coaching duties.”
Thompson launched the team last fall, passing around information fliers at Murray’s two junior high schools, Hillcrest and Riverview.
One of them caught the eye of eighth grader Conway Christensen, who had never wrestled before, but turned out to be one of the team’s top athletes.
“One of my neighbors and a cousin both wrestled for Murray, so when my mom asked if I wanted to give it a try it sounded like a good idea,” Conway said. “It’s been a lot of fun. I plan to try out for the high school team next fall.”
Joanne Christensen says her son has long been active in soccer, but has now “fallen in love with wrestling, too.”
The Spartan team finished its season Feb. 3 at the 2017 Utah Youth Super State tournament, held at the Legacy Events Center, in Farmington.
Conway was the only team member to place there, finishing fifth in his 120 lb. weight class. Ironically, that was just one day after his younger brother, first grader Cash Christensen, also finished fifth, at 43 pounds.
“Soon after Conway joined the junior high team, his two younger brothers also got interested in wrestling,” Joanne added. “Next thing we knew, their Dad (Dan) was working with them during coach Thompson’s regular practices.”
“The Super State tournament was huge and I’m very proud of Conway,” Thompson added. “I think there were about 88 teams there, with kids wrestling on 14 different mats at a time. Even though he’s a first-time wrestler, Conway picked things up quickly during practice. I wasn’t surprised he did as well as he did.”
The coach was quick to add that all of his wrestlers showed marked improvement over the season. The team’s only sixth grader was his son, Karson. Thompson’s other boy, Logan, was one of the team’s seven athletes, now in seventh grade. The other seventh graders in the Murray Spartan Junior High Wrestling Club included: Logan Christensen, Mark Jessop, Isaiah Johnson, AJ Lindsey, Kobe Paniagua and Dominick Smith.
Four eighth graders were the oldest on the team, and will be eligible to try out for the Murray High School team next year as freshmen. In addition to Conway they include: Tomo Ishikawa, Aiden Riches and Gavan Swann.
Now that the high school style wrestling season is over, many of the athletes plan to spend this spring and summer competing in Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling tournaments.
“Five of these 12 kids had previous experience wrestling Greco-Roman and freestyle,” Thompson said. “I actually only had one wrestler with folkstyle experience.”
Thompson says “folkstyle” is the type of wrestling high school and college fans are accustomed to seeing.
“It would be fun to remain the head coach of these boys,” Thompson added. “But I’ve also wanted to be a head football coach for a long time, so I am looking forward to that new challenge.”
Conway added, “He (Thompson) has taught me a lot. I plan to continue playing soccer, but I’ve also definitely found a great second sport.”