Riverside’s Mr. Robert Thomson is the new coach for the school’s wrestling team. Thomson has decades worth of experience with the sport, and his knowledge has helped the wrestling team become successful during this wrestling season.
- How long is the season? When did it begin and when will it end?
The season started in early November and ends in the first week of March with the provincial championships in Salmon Arm (March 2nd-4th). So usually 4 months in duration unless some athletes are successfully enough to compete at nationals (Windsor, Ontario this year), then their season is an additional month.
- Do you compete against other Coquitlam 43 high schools? Who is your biggest competition?
Yes…we meet several SD43 teams at numerous competitions this year such as the Rams Rumble at Maple Ridge Secondary School (December 1). Fraser Valley Novice at Langley Secondary School (December 3), Burnaby Central Takedown at Burnaby Central (December 8), War on the Floor at Pinetree Secondary School (December 15), District Mini Meet at Terry Fox Secondary (January 5), and Wildcat Invitational at Burnaby Central (January 12). Due to our inexperience and being a relatively new program, everyone is a challenge for us. However, we have been increasingly successfully with every outing. That speaks volumes about the importance of mat time and the availability of competition, something I did not always have as a coach in northern Alberta where the nearly major competition was 12 hours away in Edmonton. In regards to team size (number of program participants) we are second only to Pinetree Secondary, last season’s provincial second place finishers! That stat is encouraging moving forward as a program!
- What are the teams’ prospects this season?
Well I believe it is important to set realistic and attainable goals. First and foremost, I want the wrestlers to have fun and enjoy the experience. So getting along as a team, staying fit, and making new friends with athletes outside our school are important. The nature of the sport allows kids to connect with kids from other districts and towns. Usually the down time between matches is filled with socializing. This is something I have always encouraged. Most of my best friends today were former wrestlers from various BC towns, Canadians provinces/territories, and countries. With time, there will be more wins, medals, and banners but those things are of least importance and usually collect dust or are forgotten over time.
- Other than tomorrow’s tournament, what is next for the team/individual wrestlers?
On Friday February 3, the team will travel to the Alberni Invitational. This competition is usually one of the best run tournaments in the province and I have a lot of fond memories of the town as a coach and athlete. I first started competing there in the mid-1980s and they still have the same main coach! Tom is an incredible coach and ambassador of the sport of wrestling and is responsible for creating numerous national champions.
- How many wrestlers do you have? Girls/boys
Currently we have six girls on the roster ranging from grades 9-10. These are exciting numbers for girl participants and I would consider that number above average. On the boy’s side, we are sitting at 12 participants, mostly 9s and 10s.
- Who are some of the standout wrestlers?
Again…we are an inexperienced and young team. However, over the course of the season thus far I’ve seen numerous things that are encouraging moving forward as a program. Such as a willingness to work hard and the ability to demonstrate newly taught techniques. There are also some areas that need improvement and we are making those necessary corrections.
- What was involved for you getting the season going? The hoodies and the uniforms etc.
Well in order for the kids to feel like a team, they needed to look like a team. I know he will kill me for mentioning his name, but Steve Diamond is amazing! His company donated all the hoodies and embroidery for the athletes…thank you Steve. Furthermore, I believe every successful program must have a strong core of dedicated parents and Rapids wrestling is privileged to have many incredible parents. Whether it is being volunteer drivers or simply cheering for us from the stands or mat side, they are always there and the kids and I really appreciate that. I’d also like to give a big shout out to our hard working athletics department and ADs who make all this possible. They quietly work hard behind the scenes and tirelessly take care of all the paperwork, scheduling officials, etc.; in addition to ordering all the uniforms and equipment. Another thing that makes these programs thrive are all the staff who are willing to look after our classes while we are gone on field trips…thank you. Plus, I never worked at a school where there was so much support from the admin team. They attend everything, even practices…awesome! Thank you to Happy and the other custodians who are always willing to set us up with a mop and bucket to clean the mats. And a big thanks to you and your reporting staff for getting the story out there!
- What do you think about wrestling as a sport? Athleticism needed, strategy, etc.
Wrestling is an individual sport where it’s just you and your opponent out there. That can be scary for a lot of athletes. Interestingly, I once read, wrestlers need the strength of a power-lifter, the flexibility of a gymnasts, the explosiveness of a sprinter, and the mind of a chess player. I believe this is very true. I also think the sport teaches its athletes the importance of preparation and attention to detail. When I was a kid, only boys wrestled and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) was not very popular. The sport is very different today and I think for the better. Its way more inclusive and exciting to watch. Fortunately, the sport is back in the Olympics and hopefully for good.
- How is this a sport that anyone can participate in?
The sport of wrestling doesn’t discriminate and wrestlers come in all shapes and sizes…that’s the beauty of it. I’ve had the privilege of coaching and competing with a wide variety of athletes with slight differences. Several years ago I remember listening to the commentary of Olympic alumni Chris Wilson while I was watching wrestling during the Special Olympics. He said something that hit me then and still resonates with me today. The word “disabled” has the word “able” in it. It changed my mindset where my focus was now on what the athlete could do, not what they cannot. I believe that approach can open many doors and lead to countless possibilities.
- Did you wrestle yourself competitively?
I was first introduced to wrestling at the age of 10 years old. I’m honoured to say this is my 37th year in the sport as an athlete and/or coach. My first coach was SD43 alumni Ray Munsie , who is currently coaching Salmon Arm Secondary and this year’s host of the provincial wrestling championships. I remember him as a fiery and dedicated coach back at George Pearkes Junior in the mid-1980s and nothing has changes about his approach to coaching today! Looking back, the sport chose me during a time in my life when I needed something constructive and positive to hold onto. In a lot of ways, I believe the sport of wrestling saved my life. I could have easily ventured down the wrong path, but the sport and the amazing coaches who worked with me taught me the life lessons I needed to become the person I am today. This is especially true when I think of coaches Vern Fedorak and John Simpson who worked with me at Moody Junior, and eventually Port Moody Secondary. I struggled as a student and failed every grade from kindergarten to 8th grade. However, things really changed for me during 9th grade. Mr. Simpson was my homeroom and Science teacher. It was with his guidance I realized my true potential as a student and athlete. During that year I started experiencing varying degrees of success in the classroom and on the wrestling mat for the first time in my life. It felt good and I remembering having a conversation with Coach Simpson. I expressed my sadness that wrestling would be over for me at the end of 12th grade. His response was “Why end there?”. At that point, any thoughts of university was so far from reality for me I could barely comprehend the idea. University was for smart kids, not me. I was always working in the resource room or with EAs and other student support workers. Just getting through the school year without doing sometime stupid would be an accomplishment. However, that is where the blueprint was set on this crazy and seemly unattainable goals…graduation and university. I’d like to say it was easy but there were numerous challenges along the way such as moving every 4-5 months for a total of 19 locations by 12th grade. However, the sport of wrestling, my coaches, and teammates remained my constant…they were my rock and support. With time, grades of F or D slowly moving up to C- or C, and eventually C+ or B-. Through tons of blood, sweat, and tears brought on by hard work and a few injuries, I reached my goal of graduation and I’m proud to say I was starting at Simon Fraser University in the Fall of 1988 right after high school. The best wrestling program in the country! After wrestling there for two full seasons, I wrestled off and on until my final year competing during the 1994-1995 season. There was also a bit of overlay between competing and coaching as it was in 1992 that I started coaching high school wrestling. I started my coaching career at Port Moody Secondary, but after one year I moved over to Sir Frederick Banting Junior where I coached with Bill Adair. In 1998, we moved over the Pinetree Secondary to begin a new program. In 2002, after the completion of my teaching certification I moved to northern Alberta to work with aboriginal children. Over the span of 13 years, three school districts and seven schools, I coached 23 championship winning high school teams. In addition, at the provincial level, two Canada Games, one Western Canada Games, and four Arctic Winter Games Team Alberta wrestling teams. Plus coached numerous high school national placers and medalists from the far and remote corners of the province of Alberta.