AUBURN — Edward Little’s auxiliary gym was filled with 22 wrestlers Monday night for the first practice of their inaugural season. The faint beginnings of Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow” rang through the speakers as the athletes began a warmup consisting of jogging, side shuffling, forward rolls and cartwheels, led by head coach Ben Madigan.

Madigan has been involved with wrestling since third grade. He wrestled at Mountain Valley High School, and then went on to his own coaching career with 4-year-olds in Sabattus, starting in 2012. He coached there for five years then started the Auburn Youth Wrestling Club in 2018.

This year’s Red Eddies roster is comprised of athletes of all sizes and strength levels, as well as wrestling experience. Madigan said several football players are trying wrestling this winter, and that Edward Little’s football coach Rick Kramer has been instrumental in advertising the new varsity sport.

“Coach Kramer on the football team is a huge advocate of wrestling, and he’s steered a lot of the kids my way,” Madigan said. “We have a lot of new kids; we have some kids with experience. A couple of the kids have wrestled since they were 4 years old, you know, for the youth circuit, they have competed pretty competitively across the country.”

Senior Gavin Therriault is one of those football players who joined with Kramer’s encouragement.

“I’ve always wanted to try it, so I thought I’d do it this year,” Therriault said.

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Therriault is a now three-sport athlete, with football in the fall, wrestling in the winter and track and field in the spring. He said having a winter sport is good, because it’s important to stay active both in and out of season for any sport.

“You don’t want to take off (time), and then you get out of shape and then you go into something else and you’re not ready,” Therriault said. “You always want to keep doing something to make sure you’re great at everything else.”

While this winter is the first time Edward Little will have a wrestling team, Madigan said he has been advocating for a varsity program for the Red Eddies since he started Auburn Youth Wrestling Club five years ago.

“I was talking with the athletic director early on, so when we started the Youth Wrestling Club here in Auburn, we immediately reached out to Todd Sampson and he came to one of our practices and saw the level of interest that we had at the time, and he said the best opportunity to get a team here would be when the new school is built,” Madigan said. “I kept him apprised of all the developments, and the enrollment growth over the years and the successful middle school team.”

Earlier this year, the Auburn Youth Wrestling Club won a Pine Tree Wrestling League state championship. Six Auburn wrestlers finished in the top four.

Madigan said last year’s middle school team had several eighth-graders who wanted to continue to wrestle their freshman year and had the experience to be competitive.

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One of the experienced wrestlers is Madigan’s son, Evan Madigan, a freshman at Edward Little. This year will be his first wrestling as a Red Eddie, but he has been involved with the sport for 11 years.

“I’ve been wrestling for the club middle school team, I wrestled youth all the way through, and I wrestled for a travel team,” Evan Madigan said. “(Ben) is my dad, and he’s coached me all the way through. He’s a good coach and pushes me to work harder.”

The younger Madigan said his goals for the season are to be named captain, win a state championship and lock down 50 wins during the season.

Daphne Deroche is a freshman and one of two girls on the co-ed team. She’s never wrestled before, she said, but was motivated to try it after practicing jiu-jitsu, which she said incorporates many of the same skills.

“I’m kind of nervous,” Deroche said. “I haven’t done wrestling before. I’ve done things like wrestling, like, jujitsu and stuff, but I’m kind of nervous to have to wrestle guys, so it’s nerve-racking. I am the youngest girl on the team and that feels kind of awkward, but I think I will accomplish things.”

She said wrestling boys at the high school level will make her better and stronger and increase her chances to beat girls from other schools she faces at meets this season.

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“It’s just really fun, and it gives you a lot of confidence,” Deroche said about her first season. “I think I have found what I’m good at, and what I enjoy.”

Ben Madigan started practice with the same goals as Deroche: to build team confidence and have fun doing it. He told the team that his job is “to prepare you guys to compete at the high school level,” but he wants to ensure the athletes appreciate the sport simultaneously.

“Wrestling will really teach you how to be a better person overall,” Ben Madigan said to the team after warmups. “You may not know it yet, but when you’re in a tough situation, you’ll lean on the skills you learned here.”

Madigan’s high school wrestling coach, Gary Dolloff, is the reason he is so passionate about the sport to this day. Dolloff was inducted into the Maine Amateur Wrestling Alliance Hall of Fame in August, and still coaches at Mountain Valley.

Dolloff coached Madigan from seventh grade to senior year of high school.

“The sport of wrestling is pretty big there, still to this day, and my old high school coach still coaches,” Madigan said. “I would say, the reason that I continue to have a passion for the sport is because of a lot of lessons that he taught me over the years and (now) kind of paying it forward.”

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Five-year wrestler Cooper Blair said Ben Madigan has all the skills of a good coach, while also supporting and being there for his team.

“I’ve had him as my coach for a while and I really enjoy him,” said Blair, who is a freshman on the team. “He’s always there for me and always helping.”

Blair is also a three-sport athlete, and plays soccer in the fall and baseball in the spring. His goal for the season is to wrestle hard and win as many matches as he can.

“Having a wresting team means a lot,” Blair said. “It’s really nice to actually have a wrestling team now — I didn’t think we were going to get it at first, but everything progressed, and now we’re here.”

Spots are still open to join the roster. Blair said that anyone considering wrestling should just show up and try it, work hard and take risks. He also said it is good cross training for other sports, and that it builds strength, especially.

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