It may have taken 15 years, but Hazelton has a wrestling club again.
The Hazelton Amateur Wrestling Club (HAWC) started back up in 2018 after a group of wrestling-loving volunteers got together to bring back the club.
“People have been sort of bugging us for years … to get the wrestling program going and then Jennifer Zyp is actually sort of key in that,” said Hazelton Spartans head coach Tim Sullivan.
“She really wanted to get it going but wanted some people who were alumni that could coach, that could join her in that effort so she was really pushing hard for us to do it.”
In the end it would be Sullivan, Zyp and Tom Lee who would get together to coach the team.
The three are all former wrestlers themselves, explains Sullivan, who moved to the area from Oklahoma.
“[Lee] was a year or two ahead of me,” said Sullivan, who started wrestling at the previous Hazelton Amateur Wrestling Club in 1987.
Both he and the area share a historical connection to wrestling, with Sullivan’s father Joe Sullivan coaching the past club during the early 1990s.
Sullivan said his father’s approach to the emergence of females within the sport allowed for a lot of great talent to come out of the area.
“Womans wrestling was just being accepted in the sport, in amateur wrestling and in the Olympics, so he embraced that and had a lot of female wrestlers on his team and as a result we had some Olympians come out of the wrestling program here.
Carol Huynh won a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and a bronze at the 2012 London Olympic Games, Lyndsay Belisle has taken home two silver medals from both the 2003 Santo Domingo Pan American Games and the 2006 Guangzhou World Wrestling Championships. Both wrestlers were born in Hazelton.
Some thirty-odd years later, the HSS Spartans now stand at 20 official members, 11 girls and nine boys.
Sullivan said that he made the decision to bring back the HAWC versus just resurrecting the team because a number of people suggested to him it would be easier to raise funds if he was able to apply for government grants.
“We primarily coach the Hazelton spartans but … we’ve got society status as a club,” said Sullivan.
“If we have that then we’re responsible financially to the government and then we can apply to things like gaming grants to different organizations to get money to put towards the wrestling programs.”
The first step, Sullivan said, is to try to get mats to replace the 20-some-odd year ones the team is currently using when they practice twice a week — Mondays and Wednesdays — at Hazelton Secondary School (HSS).
Beyond that, the options are a lot wider, with Sullivan pointing to thinks like coaching and referee clinics to get more people involved and, hopefully, look at hosting competitions in the future.
“I know there’s a few people in Terrace that are interested in getting wrestling going there again and Rupert … if we can spread some of that funding out through the Northwest, we could rebuild wrestling here.”
Discussing the HSS team (which played earlier this month in Prince George’s Kelly Road wrestling tournament) Sullivan said it’s been great being able to work with so many kids who want to learn more about the sport.
So far he says many of the kids of joined are older.
“We’ve had a lot of kids who are in Grade 12 join and you get these kids … they get a lot out of it but because they’re just getting started but you’re almost like, yeah I wish I had a few more years with them because they’re so good.
“There’s this overreaching arc where if you can start with a kid in eighth grade or even sixth grade you can have that arc so that when they’re in eleventh and twelfth grade they’re the top competitors in their weight classes because they have a lot of knowledge.”
Even still, Sullivan said the team has done great at the tournaments they’ve been to.
As for the Kelly Road, they might not have won as many medals as in previous tournaments (and the poor weather made it tough for all students to get out) but Sullivan said the tournament itself was a great challenge and experience for the team.
“We definitely ran into some stiffer competition and some of our wrestlers who’d been wading through northern competition had some challengers in this tournament, so that was good for them.”
While the club currently just coaches the HSS Spartans, Sullivan said they have plans to try to bring in a younger crowd so they do have a chance to develop players for a longer time.
“We’ve been keeping our doors open because … we’re basically in infancy again so I’ve been really open to allowing kids to come out,” said Sullivan, who adds that wrestling is a great sport for kids to get into.
“It’s an excellent sport for giving kids some strength and some confidence and all of those kinds of things so we really want to get the program back to where it was in it’s heyday and hopefully having our own tournaments.
He added that while him Lee and Zyp have taken on the coaching roles, bringing back the club was a community effort and that everyone involved with the club is grateful to the community response they’ve seen since it was relaunched last year.
“I know a lot of the old-school guys that I wrestled with and used to go and watch the tournaments with are always excited to hear and they always stop me and talk about it and they’re really thankful that we’ve got it going again.”
Sullivan said they will be looking at fundraising in the future. Based on the response he said he is confident the community will come together to help chip in for things like mats and coaching seminars.