YORK — Seventeen years ago, Bryan Thompson was a new wrestling coach in Maine, heading a small team at Traip Academy in Kittery.

Needing to get his wrestlers better workouts, he would routinely trundle them up to York to practice with the Wildcats.

Now Thompson is the co-coach at York High with Wally Caldwell, and this fall Traip Academy wrestlers are coming to him.

But there is a significant difference. These seven Ranger wrestlers are full-fledged members of the new cooperative York-Traip Wrestling.

“It’s a win-win for both schools,” Thompson said. “If it takes off in Traip and they want to start their own team in a few years, that’s great, but right now these kids are getting a chance to try a new sport, and they’re filling weights and adding depth for our team.”

This is the first school year in which sports like wrestling that crown individual champions have been reclassified from “cooperative individual” to “cooperative team.” That allowed school districts to join forces for wrestling, which has been hit by a decline in participation and was also reclassified from three divisions to two for 2015-16.


Previously, individuals from a school without wrestling could train with another program and compete as “independents” representing their own school. That option still exists. It works well for a serious, year-round wrestler but does little to increase participation or encourage someone like Traip junior Matt Kashmer to try a new sport.

“The team sport aspect and the camaraderie is just so much more important to me,” said Kashmer, shortly after claiming his first varsity win at Saturday’s Sullivan Memorial Duals at York. “If I was alone, I don’t think I’d be able to push myself as much.”

Kashmer said he feels he and the six other Traip students add spirit and energy to the York team, while gratefully soaking up the knowledge offered by York’s more experienced wrestlers like Connor Elsemore and Josh Smith.

“They’re all good kids, they’re all strong,” Elsemore said. “They’ve never wrestled before but we’ll take that.”

Anthony Sowell, a senior at Traip, said he and buddies like Kashmer use to get together and wrestle in his backyard “just for fun,” and were excited when Traip Athletic Director Mike Roberge promoted the wrestling option early this school year.

“It gives me an outlet for my aggression,” said Sowell, who won his first match by pin. “Plus, I’ve always played football and I’ve always liked the contact aspect of sport.”


York-Traip and Mt. Ararat/Brunswick are the two local co-op teams.

“It’s helped us a lot,” said Mt. Ararat/Brunswick Coach Erick Jensen. “We have five kids from Brunswick and four are on our varsity.”

Jensen said he and other coaches have encouraged cooperative teams for “at least two, maybe three years,” as a way to combat shrinking participation numbers. He said starting a team is difficult and small teams suffer competitive disadvantages in practice and dual meets.

Kashmer said he doubts Traip could have started its own team.

“I don’t think we would have had enough interest,” he said. “Even if we did, then we’d have to get the coaches, the space to practice, equipment, uniforms and all the other stuff we would have needed.”

Portland Coach Tony Napolitano said he expects more cooperative teams.


“I feel like the beauty of cooperative teams is that you have more kids wrestling and more full teams,” Napolitano said. “As long as there are full teams, that’s what matters. It makes for better practices and better matches.”

Napolitano said Portland and South Portland is a natural fit.

“They don’t have a program and we already have a bunch of South Portland kids in our Portland Youth Wrestling program,” he said.

Two South Portland wrestlers are training this season as independents with Cheverus – which bucked the recent trend by starting its own team. In the past, a handful of Cheverus wrestlers trained with Deering.

Some coaches worry that cooperative teams could become super teams, particularly if two larger schools – such as Mt. Ararat and Brunswick – are coming together.

“We aren’t a super team yet, far from it,” Jensen said. “Who knows? Maybe that will happen but right now it’s an opportunity to expand wrestling. In reality it’s a shrinking sport in this state and this rule is an opportunity to grow our numbers.”


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