They say all good things must come to an end. And certainly for the Williams Lake Wrestling Club, while not precisely the end, an era has finished and a figurehead will be missed.
Club founder, coach, mentor and teacher Rick Bryan announced recently he and his wife, Jaye, were leaving the lakecity to start construction on a new home in Duncan this summer.
Bryan, who moved to Williams Lake in 1976 after finishing a teaching degree in Burnaby and spending four years teaching in Prince George, laid the foundation and moulded what would eventually become the WLWC.
“Before I came to Williams Lake I taught for four years in Prince George in a brand new school they had just built,” Bryan said. “In the early 70s the going level of stupidity [of the district] said in order to save money we won’t build gyms, just schools.”
Bryan’s Grade 7 class at the time wanted to do sports but, the school, Highglen elementary, had no gym.
“I saw a blurb on the staff room wall that said anyone interested in coaching wrestling can come to this clinic,” he said. “I asked, ‘Would a classroom do?’ Our school had a wrestling team that year.”
That same year, Bryan saw something in his wrestlers.
“What struck me about the experience was what the sport did for the kids in terms of self esteem, connectedness, dedication and work ethic,” he said. “Because of that I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Then, while teaching at McLeese Lake elementary Bryan found himself, again, teaching in a school without a gym.
“I was chatting with Byron Kemp, he was principal at Chimney Creek school, and we segued into a discussion of school sports,” Bryan said. “He had wrestled and said we should get something together for a wrestling play day that year [in 1979].”
Out of that discussion came the annual School District 27 elementary wrestling play day, held at Glendale elementary every March for the past 32 years.
Kemp eventually retired from Glendale, when new principal Al Campsall stepped up and took over the school’s wrestling program.
Many years later, in 1994, the WLWC was formed, still with Bryan at the helm.
The club, heading into its 15th season, came about after a discussion Bryan had with an elementary school parent while teaching at Cataline elementary.
“A parent came up to me after the Glendale play day one year and said, ‘My kids really enjoyed this, and now he’s graduating to high school and none of the schools have wrestling teams. What are we going to do about that?’” Bryan said, noting the parent slyly implied he start up a high school program.
“We convened a meeting for parents, kids, teachers and the upshot was we decided to form a community-based club.”
At the same time the club branched off to offer elementary wrestling throughout the district. Three years later, the elementary divisions were split into both primary and intermediate divisions.
Bryan said in its first year the WLWC had about 20 kids registered.
Since, the club has continued to grow peaking to more than 100 kids some years. Bryan said Williams Lake is definitely the “kid wrestling capital of B.C.”
“As a result of what we’ve done here communities all over B.C. are jumping in with kid wrestling programs and it’s starting to show in the overall numbers in B.C.”
Humbly, however, Bryan said he doesn’t deserve all the credit, as a dedicated group of parents and volunteers have been tremendous support in stringing the club along.
He credits his wife, Jaye, particularly, for allowing him to spend the countless hours he has over the years with the wrestling club.
“She’s jumped in and our three kids growing up in town here all participated in sports,” Bryan said. “I suppose that’s what motivated me to start. Jaye has always been supportive as well. For many years our daughter swam for the Williams Lake Blue Fins and while I was off doing wrestling events Jaye put in a tremendous amount of time with the Blue Fins on the executive, and helping to organize and officiate meets.”
Jaye also hopped on board with the Williams Lake KidSport chapter as soon as it was founded and has been a committee member since. In addition, she’s been a dedicated member of Search and Rescue in the community.
And while Bryan said leaving Williams Lake will be bittersweet, he’s confident he’s leaving the wrestling club in very capable hands.
Sonia Conrod has taken over the presidency of the club while Tyman Jobin, Travis Heitmann and Shane Hentze have taken over the coaching reins.
“The kids in Williams Lake are extremely fortunate,” Bryan said. “For a town this size there is a wide variety of sporting opportunities to them and huge support from the community. I’ll certainly miss that, and the kids. We’ve had a lot of fun.”
Bryan isn’t quite ready to pack away his wrestling gear yet, however, as he expects to have a role within the Duncan wrestling club and hopes to bring their wrestling team to Williams Lake for tournaments.
“I’m also going to continue working with the B.C. Wrestling Association with recruitment by travelling to schools to do clinics and to introduce the sport to kids,” he said.
Through his work with the WLWC and with his work with the B.C. Wrestling Association, Bryan was named by Sport B.C. as a Community Sport Hero in 2009.
“We’re going to miss the people, we’re going to miss the town and we’re going to miss the community,” Bryan said.