By Darren Lum
In the Red Hawks wrestling team’s 12 year history there has always been at least one member who has earned an Ontario Federation Sports Athletic Association (OFSAA) championship berth.
This year wasn’t any different except there will be three Hawks AJ Gillam Sonora Plumb and Shane O’Reilly who earned the right to compete at the all-provincials because of their Central Ontario Secondary School Athletics (COSSA) championship performances on Feb. 17 at the Kenner Collegiate Vocational Institute in Peterborough.
Coach Dan Fockler who has been with the team for the entire dozen years with Paul Klose gave context for the team’s perennial success.
“You always feel bad for the ones that didn’t make it and should have” he said.
It’s this attitude that has been the hallmark of the team and has served its members well.
This year’s group of all-provincial competitors are just as selfless as previous wrestlers and they are fittingly a reflection of their humble coaches who regularly deflect credit for the team’s success.
Second year wrestler Plumb (51 kilograms) who won silver at the COSSA championship carefully chooses her words about the opportunity to compete at the all-provincials.
“I wouldn’t brag to anyone about it or anything. I’m not an overly super competitive person. I was laughing when I heard I got into OFSAA. I’m in it for the experience more than being competitive and about learning things” she said referring to her berth.
Plumb wished a few of her female teammates could have gone on to the all-provincials with her.
“I kind of wanted some of the other girls to go on [to provincials] because it means more to them but just because I’m not competitive does not mean I’m not going to try for it. It’s just not going to be the worst thing in the world if it doesn’t go how I want it to” she said.
The Grade 11 is the smallest of the three but Fockler revealed there is an undeniable competitive fire that burns within her equal to any of the other teammates.
“There’s certainly an internal drive to do her best and I think that is healthy. She wants to do her best which might not necessarily win the tournament but in the long run it’s a nice head space to be” he said.
She has a great ability to adjust to her competitors which is due to her strength of being able to execute counter moves.
The veteran of the trio with three years of wrestling experience Gillam (77 kilograms) sees his OFSAA berth as a testament to the many hours of work and time he has invested in the sport.
“I’ve been waiting for it to come and I’ve been working every day to get further and further” he said.
Last year the Grade 11 student with the thick chest and bulging arms finished fifth at COSSA. He was hungry for improvement this year.
Although the top two of each category advanced to OFSAA Gillam completed his day by winning his challenge match to beat out the silver medal winner for the berth.
His day started with a loss in his first match at COSSA but he put together a great wrestling performance when he strung together five consecutive match wins including his challenge match on the consolation of the bracket.
Fockler loved to see his veteran qualify in a tough weight class.
“That takes some grit to fight through on the backside of a tournament and come out in the finals. That was great” he said.
Wrestling success is a family affair as younger brother Keagan earned a berth to OFSAA wrestling last year.
Rookie O’Reilly (83 kilograms) who towers over both of his teammates is a giant in height and girth.
This isn’t his first OFSAA berth in his athletic career at the school.
Two years ago in Grade 9 he went to the all-provincials for track and field competing in javelin.
“The feeling of going to OFSAA I don’t think ever will change. It’s just one of those things that is so crazy to actually go to. You just can’t adapt to” he said. “I’m still really nervous but I did well. You never know how you’ll do.”
O’Reilly dominated Kawartha and COSSA beating all of his opponents for championship titles at both levels. The Kawartha title earned him a bye at COSSA.
He tells his teammates that the all-provincials is unlike any competition at the region or district level.
“When you go to OFSAA it’s a worlds apart [from other competitions]” he said referring to the crowds corporate advertising evident and the field of competitors who are all capable of winning.
Being a first-year wrestler O’Reilly said the reason for his success is simple.
“When I initially try something I tend to try and do my best that I can. I don’t know I guess it pans out in my favour most of the times” he said.
Fockler said O’Reilly who has done well in his rookie season to learn and to perform is still working on technique and has the potential to improve.
“He’s just so strong” he said. “We’re hoping he comes back next year.”
Fockler and Klose are appreciative of the help they received this season.
The team’s coaching staff included assistant coaches and Hawks’ alumni Josh Dennys and Christianna Walker.
Fockler wants the momentum of this all-provincial experience to carry forward into next year.
“Regardless of how we do [this] week hopefully that will carry us through next season. Best case scenario they see what OFSAA is like and come back hungry” he said.