Wrestling coach Ben Madigan gathers wrestlers at the end of Auburn Youth Wrestling Club practice at Acadia Academy in Lewiston in 2019. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Athletic director Todd Sampson started wrestling with the idea of bringing the sport of grappling to Edward Little after visiting the Auburn Youth Wrestling Club.

He would like to see a Red Eddies wrestling team on the mat by the time the new school is completed, which is expected to be the fall of 2023.

“The Auburn Wrestling Club has been going at it for little bit now, and all the four stops in my athletic career, we have always had a strong wrestling program at the schools I have been at,” he said. “I have seen the value of that program for those student-athletes who have participated in it.

“It is a great sport, and a school our size, we should be able to sponsor a varsity wrestling program for our student-athletes.”

After a visit to one the Auburn Youth Wrestling Club’s wrestling practices, Sampson was convinced that there was enough support and a strong feeder system to support an Edward Little wrestling team.

“My last official meeting before we got locked down in COVID-19 last March was I went over to one of their practices at the Auburn Wrestling Club, and at that point, they had more than 50 kids … in that gym practicing and wrestling, so there is definitely interest there,” he said. “It is one of those sports, I believe, that once some of our kiddos see what it is all about, they will be drawn to it.”

Sampson said the wrestling club, which began in 2018, is one of the best kept secrets in town. Ben Madigan, who also coaches an AAU traveling wrestling team, started the program to give his young son a chance wrestle with other athletes as well as get the community interested in the sport. The young wrestlers meet two or three days a week and travel to wrestle other athletes.

“Before COVID started, we reached out to Todd,” Madigan, who is an investment analyst for Unum Insurance, said. “Had a conversation with him and told him what our plan was — and he was totally on board with that.

“The first year when we started, we had 35 kids, and then the second year, we had 52 kids register. If it wasn’t for COVID, last year, we would have had 60-plus.”

He said all his athletes, who start at age 4, masked up and followed the coronavirus guidelines.

“We were encouraged because, moving forward, if they were any restrictions in place, this year or next year or whatever, we are prepared,” the 2005 Mountain Valley High School graduate from Rumford said. 

Sampson praised the way Madigan and his coaches run the wrestling club.

“They started with the peewees, the K-to-8 kiddos, taught them the fundamental skills, and they are going to be ready to go when they get to the high-school level,” he said. “They have done a lot of their own grassroots efforts through fundraising and registration fees, and they have purchased a new full-size wrestling mat.

“This Auburn wrestling group … has got three or four former wrestlers. They are all certified-USA wrestling coaches. They have all gone through the background checks. They are really well run.

“We talked in the past about adding new sports. Part of the mindset of going club and going JV is that you’ve got to develop some fundamental skills so these kids can be competitive at the varsity level.”

“That is the goal,” Madigan said. “We would like to get a lot more middle schoolers interested. Right now, we have a handful of kids that I have coached since they were 4 years old, and now they are going into the seventh grade.

“Ideally, we would like get more interest in the middle school level, and we think that if it is offered as a middle school sport, then more kids will participate for sure. “… By the time EL is built, that will be the seventh-graders’ first year (there), and they will be freshmen when the new school is built.”

Madigan said a large area like Auburn should provide enough athletes for an Edward Little wrestling program. He added that wrestling and football complement each other “more than people realize.”

“There is enough kids who don’t participate in hockey,” he said. “They don’t play basketball. There is a certain sector of athlete that is under-served right now. Wrestling, and Todd believes this too, will really served them well.”

After visiting with the wrestling club in 2020, Sampson began fast-tracking efforts to bring high school wrestling team to fruition before the coronavirus struck.

“Right before COVID hit, we got shut down,” he said. “It kind of fell off the radar for all of us. I met with (the wrestling club) last week. We are ready to start (the process) back up with this school year and actually bring it on and to have them practice in one of the Auburn School Department facilities.

“Once we get back up and running, we will start to look (at) whether it will be a middle school program next year and then a high school program the year after. We don’t really have a hard timeline done yet, but we are excited about it.”

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