Connor Darling of Deering didn’t mark off the days on a calendar for the start of wrestling practice, but he might as well have.

His waiting ended Monday.

“Football is great, but wrestling is my sport,” said Darling, a starting guard for the Rams in football.

Darling could be expressing the sentiments of athletes who play other sports, but have a clear favorite.

If that favorite happens to take place during the winter months, this is the best time of the year for them. That’s because the winter sports season for Maine high schools officially opened with practices Monday.

The Scarborough girls’ basketball team, coached by Tom Maines, likely got a head start on every team with a 6 a.m. practice. The Red Storm had another practice in the afternoon.

Girls’ hockey starts before all winter sports. Teams in the state began practicing Nov. 7. The first game for girls’ hockey is Friday.

Darling, a senior captain, led the team in conditioning drills before leaving for football practice. Deering and Portland put the curtain down on the 2011 football season with the annual Thanksgiving game Thursday morning at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

The sound of basketballs hitting hardwood was heard in gyms throughout the state. Boys’ and girls’ teams hold tryouts for the first few days before making cuts. Even during tryouts, basketball coaches incorporate their offenses, defenses and other things like out-of-bounds plays and presses while conditioning their athletes.

“There’s a reason college teams get five weeks to get ready for a season,” said Deering girls’ coach Mike Murphy.

“We have three days of tryouts and then 12 days to get ready for our opening game. It’s not much time.”

High school basketball season opens Dec. 9.

Others sports getting underway Monday were indoor track, swimming and cheerleading. The first official day ski teams can practice is Nov. 28.

Once Darling’s football season ends, he’ll be looking to shed about 10 pounds so he can wrestle at 170 pounds. A year ago, it was a struggle to wrestle at 189.

“I’m hoping the drop in weight helps my speed and agility,” he said.

“For the next three months, my whole life is wrestling. I think the team will do much better than last year (2-12 dual meet record). We’re still recruiting wrestlers to fill in at the lower weights. We had to forfeit a lot of matches last year because we didn’t have wrestlers in the lower weights. We’ll able to fill most of those weight classes.”

A year ago, Darling placed second in his division at the regional meet, but didn’t place at the state meet.

“Connor should have a legitimate shot at placing in the state meet this year,” said Deering Coach Al Kirk, in his 34th season.

Before heading inside to practice, the Deering wrestlers ran 2.5 miles outside. Back in the wrestling room, the team opened with warm-ups, followed by drills and scrimmaging.

“We’ll practice for two hours,” said Kirk.

Besides Darling, Kirk said he expected about seven football players to join the team. They’ll fill the last seven weight divisions, which should be Deering’s strength. The first countable meet is Dec. 9.

In the Deering gym, Murphy was conducting tryouts for freshmen. The players opened with a passing drill with two players each going the length of the court.

“I want two-hand chest passes and two-hand catches,” he said.

The Rams had a practice later for upperclassmen. Deering returns three starters.

Monday was the start of what teams and individuals hope will lead to state championships in late February and early March.


Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: TomChardPPH