Cooper Blair saved the best for last.

The Auburn Middle School eighth grader started wrestling with a local club four years ago. He qualified for the Pine Tree Wrestling League State Championship but did not expect much.

“I did not think I was going to place,” Blair said. The 13-year-old made the 99-pound weight class championship match and came in second.

Blair and seven other eighth graders are hoping that league championships at Nokomis High School in Newport, which were held April 1, will not be the last wrestling match they are able to compete in.

Blair, like the seven others, have aged out of the Auburn Youth Wrestling Club.

Ben Madigan of Auburn started the program in 2018 with 33 youths eager to learn how to wrestle. He now has 64 and a team state championship to be proud of.


“We had a really good middle school season,” Madigan said. “Out of the eight wrestlers that qualified for the championships, six placed in the top four.”

The points his team scored were enough to win the overall team championship while competing against 25 middle school and club teams from across Maine. Auburn came home with the Sportsmanship Award for teams representing the West Region.

“It was really cool to finish the season like that,” Madigan said.

Auburn Youth Wrestling Club founder Ben Madigan works with young wrestlers during Wednesday’s practice at Fairview Elementary School gym in Auburn. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

While championship trophies are nice, winning is not the goal of the program, he said.

“The idea behind the club is to have a feeder program for high school,” he said. “High school wrestling is a target for these kids for when they get older.”

Edward Little High School does not have a wrestling program. Madigan is trying to change that — quickly. Without a program at the Auburn high school, the Auburn Middle School eighth graders are at the end of the road and cannot continue to wrestle through high school.


The challenge, Madigan said, is the budget. The athletic director at Edward Little has been tasked with cutting costs, “so how do we add an additional sports team?”

“The interest in having a (wrestling) program is there, so I do not want finances to be an issue,” Madigan said.

He said youth programs helping to fund varsity high school programs is nothing unique in Maine, and that is what he is proposing to do.

“We have a lot already in place with our program,” he said. “We already have the mats, which is a major expense.” He said he would forgo a coach’s stipend in order to get the program off the ground.

This was the first season the youth program joined the Pine Tree Wrestling League, Madigan said. One reason is because the league follows guidelines set by the Maine Principals’ Association, the same governing body that establishes groundwork for high school athletics.

Madigan grew up in Rumford where he won a state championship and three regional titles while wrestling for Mountain Valley High School.


Auburn Middle School eighth grader Cooper Blair, left, practices Wednesday with the Auburn Youth Wrestling Club at Fairview Elementary School in Auburn. Blair placed second in the 99-pound weight class during the Pine Tree League State Championships on April 1. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“These guys are top-notch,” Melissa Fowler said of Madigan and the assistant coaches who work with her 7-year-old son, Elijah.

“They have a great philosophy and emphasize a team approach,” Fowler said. “The coaches stress that what you learn on the mat is what you can take back to the classroom with you. As a parent, I really like that.”

Madigan said he has coached many of these kids “forever, so I’m not giving up” on trying to expand the program into high school.

“We are working on a plan to put it together,” he said. He is working with the Auburn School Committee and Edward Little athletic director Todd Sampson.

Blair said he is looking forward to being a freshman at Edward Little in the fall. He wants to best his second-place finish.

“I’m just hoping we have a program,” he said.

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