Tuesday, December 10, 2013
By Steve Craig firstname.lastname@example.org
YORK - For the last four wrestling seasons, Nick Vogel has been a one-man team.
Iain Whitis, a senior at Cheverus who trains with the Deering High team because Cheverus doesn’t have its own team, won a Class A state championship last winter in the 120-pound division.
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer
Iain Whitis of Cheverus warms up before practice Monday at Deering High. Whitis and several other independent wrestlers have found wrestling homes at other schools but can’t compete for those schools during dual meets and tournaments.
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer
Greely does not offer wrestling. So Vogel, like several other area wrestlers, sought an alternative and found a wrestling home at another high school. In his case it was Windham High, a 30-minute drive from home and school in Cumberland.
Sitting in the bleachers awaiting his next match at the season-opening Sullivan Duals at York High, Vogel was asked if training with Windham has been a good decision.
"I sometimes look at these other teams and I don't know if I would have fit in any better anywhere else. I really don't think it could have worked out better," Vogel said. "The only difference between me and the other guys is I wear a different singlet."
As an independent wrestler, Vogel is with the team but not officially part of it. Independent wrestlers are eligible to compete in year-end tournaments and get as many matches as they can during the season as a non-scoring extra match at the end of dual meets.
Jared Jensen, a Brunswick senior and two-time state champ, practices at Mt. Ararat, where his father, Erick, is the head coach.
Jensen, the 152-pound Class A champion last season, isn't the only independent state champ. Cheverus senior Iain Whitis, in his second year training with Deering, is the reigning Class A champ at 120.
At last year's state meet, Brunswick and Cheverus tied for 13th place, thanks to Jensen and Whitis.
"Cheverus beat Deering, which was pretty fun to mention on the bus ride home," Whitis said.
Abraham Eaton is another independent wrestler. Eaton is a home-schooled sophomore in the Gorham district who trains with Westbrook.
Sometimes independent wrestlers bring along a classmate or two and form a mini team.
That's the case for Whitis this season. His freshman brother, Aidan, and two other Cheverus students have joined the Deering program.
At Windham, Vogel has been joined this year by Gray-New Gloucester freshman Tristan Herod.
"Our doors are always open to anyone who's willing to wrestle. We don't turn anyone away," Windham Coach Kurt Pelletier said.
On the surface, the life of an independent wrestler seems full of disadvantages.
To be sure, there are some.
An independent wrestler can forget about getting home-school fan support.
"In four years I've never had a home meet," Whitis said.
While Whitis only has a three-minute commute from Cheverus to Deering High, travel to and from practice can be an issue for independent wrestlers and is their responsibility.
Independent wrestlers often get fewer bouts during a season, said Westbrook Coach Jon Nicholas.
"When we have a dual meet, if the other team is a smaller team, they're going to wrestle the Westbrook kid first, and then sometimes it's hard to get a match for (the independent)," Nicholas said. "That's kind of disappointing for the kid who works hard, makes the trip and makes his weight."
Most of all, there is a feeling of detachment from your own high school.
"My friends at school just really don't understand what wrestling is about," Jensen said.
"The culture isn't in your school," Whitis said. "They don't understand why I'm not eating or drinking anything on a Thursday and Friday, and people think you're weird."
From a coaching and administrative standpoint, there is the added paperwork at meets, and logistic concerns.
But it's obvious from talking to Whitis, Vogel, Jensen and their coaches that once a commitment is solidified, any drawbacks are far outweighed by the benefits -- for both independent wrestlers and the host program.
"Any time you have a high-caliber athlete in your practice room, that always helps a lot," said Erick Jensen. "The kids that do it, and stick with it, are usually pretty good at it."
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