A crowd watches in the main gymnasium at the Noble Invitational wrestling tournament last week in North Berwick. Several high school wrestling teams in southern Maine have seen a significant increase in turnout this season. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

NORTH BERWICK — For the first time in years, more high school wrestlers are hitting the mats in southern Maine. Some teams are benefiting from large freshmen classes, while others have added first-time wrestlers who wanted to try a new sport.

Wells Coach Scott Lewia said his 25-wrestler team is the largest he’s had in 10 years. York Coach Bryan Thompson reported having 20 wrestlers, a 33 percent increase over last season.

Noble, a perennial power, has gained 20 wrestlers this season and has a roster of 47, including an influx of 16 freshmen.

Noble Coach Kevin Gray thinks the spike in participation is directly related to the removal of the cloud of pandemic mandates.

“It’s a little bit where we’ve gone from COVID and kids not doing anything to now they want to do something,” Gray said, adding that Noble’s boys’ basketball numbers have also gone up. Gray is also taking an active approach to recruiting wrestlers, forging a “good relationship with our football coaches” and supporting the district’s strong youth and middle school programs.

Some wrestlers, like Brayden Moores, have come back to the sport after the pandemic disruptions. Wrestling was the only high school sport in Maine that held no competitions during the 2020-21 school year. Last season, wrestlers had to wear masks during practices and matches.


Moores, a sophomore at Massabesic High, wrestled as a sixth- and seventh-grader. He said he didn’t lose a match as a seventh-grader and had begun to really love the demanding sport.

But the pandemic canceled his eighth-grade season. As a freshman in 2021-22, he chose not to wrestle.

“Last year, I was really discouraged,” Moores said. “I didn’t want to wrestle with a mask and after not wrestling for 18 months, I didn’t have the passion for it anymore.”

But this season, Moores started to rethink his decision. He said his good friend and fellow sophomore, Bryce Holleran, had already returned to wrestling and helped convince Moores to give the sport another chance. Moores is not in the Mustangs’ starting lineup but is glad he’s back on the mat.

“I came back about two weeks ago and it’s been fun,” Moores said. “I think it was really the COVID concerns that were stopping me.”

Participation in Maine high school wrestling had been falling rapidly before the pandemic.


The sport began to show a significant decline from 2011-12 through the 2018-19 season, the most recent year with complete participation data reported by the Maine Principals’ Association. During those eight years, an average of 832 wrestlers competed in Maine, with a low of 754 in 2016-17.

That was nearly 25 percent less than the average of 1,089 Maine high school wrestlers in the previous eight-year period, which included a high of 1,236 in 2006-07. The drop in wrestling participation was significantly greater than the approximately 4 percent decline in statewide high school enrollment from 2011 to 2018.

Last week’s Noble Invitational wrestling tournament in North Berwick featured over 35 teams, including squads from New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

But there are examples that suggest the participation is on the rebound this season.

Fifteen southern Maine wrestling programs that reported 2021-22 participation data to the MPA have also posted 2022-23 rosters on their league websites. Eleven of those 15 teams have reported an increase in participation. A 12th team, Biddeford/Thornton, is essentially unchanged with a good-sized roster of 28 wrestlers compared to last season’s 27.

The Scarborough/Gorham cooperative has increased from 16 to 25 wrestlers.

“I think pitching wrestling as a great secondary sport for football certainly helped us,” said Scarborough Coach Ben Watson, who is also an assistant football coach at the school. “And, I think post-COVID, kids are willing to get after it. I think the pandemic scared a lot of us, especially children. Rightfully so. And that’s not from a coach’s perspective but rather as a parent of four kids of my own.”


Three southern Maine programs are showing decreased participation. Kennebunk is down five wrestlers from its Class A South championship squad but still has one of the larger teams with 30. Mt. Ararat/Brunswick has dipped from 22 to 18 after winning the Class A championship. Bonny Eagle’s drop from 15 to 11 represents the largest decrease by percentage.

Several coaches reported that they are seeing more first-time wrestlers who are upperclassmen.

“I just picked up two brothers who are football guys,” Lewia said. “One’s a sophomore, the other’s a junior.”

On the Midcoast, two programs with long histories are also showing signs of bouncing back. Medomak Valley has jumped from six to 17 wrestlers. Morse has gone from 12 to 20.

Southern Maine powerhouses Massabesic, Sanford and Marshwood each have six more wrestlers compared to last season.

That’s especially good news for Marshwood. The Hawks won six of seven Class A titles from 2012-18 under longtime coach Matt Rix, but their roster hovered around 10 in the three seasons since Rix retired. This year, the Hawks have 16 wrestlers, with nine freshmen.


The coaches also recognize that turning a one-year improvement into a longer positive trend will take continued effort.

“Hopefully we as coaches have seen that we always have to be selling our programs,” said Gray, the Noble coach.

Sanford senior James Blood never wavered in his devotion to wrestling. His passion for the sport was obvious at the recent Noble Wrestling Invitational, where he dominated the 113-pound division and cheered on teammates and friends from other teams.

Blood is one of the state’s top wrestlers. As a junior, he won the Class A 106-pound title, placed third at the New England championships and second at the Virginia Beach Nationals against other juniors in high school.

“My freshman year, we had like nine people on the team, and this year we have like 40ish,” Blood said. “In my opinion, bigger teams are a better family and it brings everyone together. I just love this team and I’m very grateful to have them.”

Blood said he’s seen similar growth across the state.

“I think a lot of people are realizing that this is an actual good sport to come together,” he said.

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