Rangely Youth Wrestling program a labor of love

Rangely Youth Wrestling head coach Andy Lucero gets some one-on-one time with his 7-year-old son, Tyce, following Tyce’s successful first match at the Parachute Grapplers Tournament over the weekend. Lucero, who took the program over from Jeff and Sharon Heinle in 2012 with wife Heidi and Rangely locals Lynn and Wade Rusher, said their efforts would be unsuccessful without the support of volunteer coaches and parents.
Rangely Youth Wrestling head coach Andy Lucero gets some one-on-one time with his 7-year-old son, Tyce, following Tyce’s successful first match at the Parachute Grapplers Tournament over the weekend. Lucero, who took the program over from Jeff and Sharon Heinle in 2012 with wife Heidi and Rangely locals Lynn and Wade Rusher, said their efforts would be unsuccessful without the support of volunteer coaches and parents.
RANGELY I When it comes to the perks of heading up the Rangely Youth Wrestling Program, don’t go by the numbers. And certainly don’t go by the dollars.
Because head coach Andy Lucero and his wife, coordinator Heidi Lucero, don’t get any for their work with preschoolers through sixth-graders. They don’t get into tournaments for free. Neither do their kids, 7-year-old wrestling phenom Tyce or 5-year-old Saige (3-year-old Reece does, but only because she’s under five). They pay their own gas to and from the eight weekend tournaments. And if they decide to stay somewhere to stretch a 4 a.m. wakeup call to 5:30, the hotel’s on their dime.
Luckily for them, the Luceros’ reasons for running the program have nothing to do with countable benefits.
Along with Rangely parents Lynn and Wade Rusher, the Luceros started learning the ropes of what was the Rangely Peewee Wrestling Program in 2011 from then-coordinators Jeff and Sharon Heinle. The Heinles, who had headed up the program for years, knew that it took time and dedication. They thought the Rushers, whose son Justin was a wrestler, and the Luceros, whose son had finished the 2010 season undefeated, could be just the people to take it over.
But heading up a youth wrestling program is a task for the driven. The Northwest Colorado Wrestling League brings coaches together from Rifle, Parachute, Meeker, Hayden, Rangely, and two Craig teams each December to go over rules, make necessary updates, and plan the upcoming season schedule. From then on, unless a program is run through a parks and recreation district, as in Hayden’s case, team organizers are on their own to gather a team, train kids in two or three sessions per week, and coach them through intensive round robin competitions or six- or eight-man brackets, depending on the tournament. For nationally competitive programs like Bad Dogs Youth Wrestling out of Craig, coaches do just that for eight months out of the year.
For Rangely, which operates within the more standard 10-week schedule, an average season looks something like this:
In early February, Lynn and Heidi send out fliers school-wide and advertise town-wide before coordinating signups and practice equipment checkouts.
Once practices are underway, coordinators and coaches commit to be there twice per week for two age groups in consecutive sessions. That means that Andy and nine parent coaches teach kids for three-plus hours each practice night for ten weeks.
By mid-March, it’s tournament time. Kids planning to compete check out expensive tournament gear that must be tracked, held by deposit, and later accounted for. Each week, coordinators record weights and collect payments for upcoming tournaments while coaches recognize kids for outstanding performances the weekend before. Each week, moves are re-taught and reinforced. By mid-season, it’s time to schedule and order team and individual pictures, take shirt orders, and start planning the end-of-year banquet and awards.
All of this is just practice for the real thing. In preparation for tournament day, the Luceros arrive in Meeker or Hayden, Parachute or Rifle by 6:30 a.m. to oversee the team’s weigh-ins and admissions and attend a coaches’ meeting. Once a tournament is underway, Andy shuttles between several mats, each one assigned to a volunteer coach for the day. There is encouragement to pass out by the bucketful. There are tears to dry and congratulations to be given. Once home, he writes weekly newspaper articles about how the kids did.
It is worth noting that, for the Rangely Youth Wrestling Program, this was an “easy” year. Although a rotating schedule meant that Rangely dropped its 2013 tournament, an additional set of responsibilities normally accompanies that event, from organizing concessions and janitorial help to overseeing admissions, bracketing and referees.
When the Luceros and Rushers took the program on full-time in 2012, Heidi remembers being stunned at the amount of work to be done.
“You’d never know until you do it how much work goes into it,” she said.
But if it’s a labor, it’s strung together with threads of love, and the returns are of a similar weave, less tangible but more satisfying than gas cards and per diems. Heidi says her husband has a heart for coaching and does it for their son. And while Andy, a longtime wrestler himself, agrees that having Tyce in the program is special for them both, his vision is for all the children.
“I do it for the kids because they need to know what wrestling’s about,” Lucero said. “It doesn’t help you just for wrestling; it teaches you responsibility for your own actions. You can’t blame anybody but yourself. If you win, it’s because you did it. It’s a very independent sport that teaches you so much about life.”
Lucero knows a little something about that. As a middle and high schooler, wrestling not only taught him to stand up for himself; it kept him motivated in school and focused on healthy alternatives to drinking and drugs. And while he’s proud of the caliber of a program that averages half of Rangely participants wrestling in tournament championship rounds, he knows that, unlike the sport itself, managing the program is anything but a one-man show.
“If it weren’t for Heidi, I couldn’t do any of it,” Andy said. “And it wouldn’t happen without Lynn, my coaches and a lot of the parents.”
Jill Delay, the Hayden recreation coordinator who helps manage paperwork for the League, said that most youth wrestling programs are completely volunteer- and parent-run. That means that, while not all parents with kids in the program help out, the ones who do are committed to seeing the program succeed.
For Lucero, who sees kids start the program one year and fizzle out, only to return the next year hungry to learn, the benefits are in the kids’ individual personalities and learning styles.
“Every kid’s different. That’s why we have all the different coaches,” Lucero said. “I can’t teach the same moves to the same kids. One wrestler’s going to want to do a half-nelson, another kid a cross-face cradle. If a move isn’t working for someone, then we move on and try something else.”
At the same time, Lucero and his coaching team emphasize lessons they’re not willing to compromise, the most prized among them good sportsmanship. Wrestlers don’t throw headgear or throw fits. They shake hands with competitors and other teams’ coaches. It’s all tied into those life lessons kids need to just keep learning.
This week, as Lucero and his team wrap up the 2013 season with a shared meal and recognition, he has no regrets about the time or effort poured into the last three months.
“I’m very glad that we’ve done it, very glad I took it over,” he said. “To teach somebody, to see the results and watch them improve year after year is worth doing it all.”