By GERRY STEELE
Of the Baker City Herald
andquot;Little Dawgs,andquot; andquot;Puppy Dawgs,andquot; andquot;Bunniesandquot; and andquot;Tigersandquot; frolicked on the navy blue wrestling mats in the Baker High School small gym this week.
The wild critters are actually youngsters taking part in the Baker County Family YMCA youth wrestling camp.
The youngsters, in kindergarten through sixth grade, are learning the fine art of wrestling from BHS coach Dee Gorrell and a handful of volunteer assistant coaches and fathers.
Wednesday morning approximately two dozen andquot;wiredandquot; youngsters began their third day of learning what the Bulldogs do. The shrill tweet of Gorrell's whistle sends the youngsters clammering from the small gym up the stairs to the practice area.
Once there, the wrestlers, some dressed in wrestling singlets and others in T-shirt and shorts, form two lines on either side of the mats to await instructions. Most are no taller than the pads adorning the side walls of the practice area.
Gorrell walks among the tiny gladiators, the Little Dawgs (third through sixth graders) and the Puppy Dawgs (kindergarten through second grade), occasionally admonishing one or two about hanging on to the side cushions. The practice is run with the same discipline the Big Dawgs receive at a BHS practice.
The youngsters begin a series of stretching exercises in preparation for learning new holds and working on new drills. There is a lot of chatter among the youngsters, and, in some cases, short attention spans.
andquot;Close this, and listen,andquot; Gorrell says, making a pinching motion with his hand to signal for the youngsters to close their mouths. He also points to his ear, telling the youngsters to listen to what the coaches are trying to demonstrate.
Though the Y camp is running only this week in preparation for a tournament Saturday at BHS, most of the youngsters have been wrestling in the Y program since mid-February shortly after the high school season ended. And, some of the kids have picked out certain areas they like the most.
andquot;My favorite is Bunnies and Tigers,andquot; said Caleb Day, 6. andquot;It's a game, and it's fun.andquot;
Day said in playing the game the youngsters are divided into a andquot;bunnyandquot; group and a andquot;tigerandquot; group to square off on the mat. If a Tiger takes down a Bunny, the Bunny becomes a Tiger. The last andquot;Bunnyandquot; standing wins.
andquot;I've won before,andquot; Day said, smiling shyly.
Anthony Franicevich, 9, said he likes working on the moves the wrestlers learn. He hopes to be a Big Dawg at BHS some day.
andquot;I like the double leg takedown where you take the leg and go down on it,andquot; he said.
Jacob Grammon, 8, wasn't picky about a specific area as his favorite.
andquot;I like wrestling up the ladder, getting to wrestle different kids,andquot; he said. andquot;You get to beat people.andquot;
But, Grammon added, he doesn't plan to become a BHS wrestler.
andquot;I like wrestling, but I want to play football,andquot; he said. andquot;Football's more fun than wrestling.andquot;
Following the stretching exercises the groups learn how to be andquot;Superman.andquot;
During that drill the wrestlers lie on their stomachs with their arms straight out in front of them and their legs straight behind them. Then they arch their backs looking as though they are flying like the Superman character of comic book fame.
This drill is followed by several rounds of loudly-counted-out pushups, and then jogging in a circle around the mats. For many of the youngsters, the jogging quickly becomes a race to see who can beat who around the mat.
andquot;No passing,andquot; booms Gorrell's deep voice. But, in some cases, the command falls on less-than-attentive ears.
Today, the youngsters will learn how to andquot;shoot,andquot; or dive forward on the mat toward an opponent's legs. It's a move designed to take an opponent down to the mat.
Each wrestler starts in the andquot;readyandquot; position, much like a runner starting in the blocks during a sprint race. The grappler then dives forward to the mat, and quickly pops back to his feet to repeat the exercise.
andquot;Don't drop, shoot,andquot; Gorrell hollers when someone doesn't quite get the idea.
One youngster, dwarfed by the Baker coach, asked him to demonstrate the wrong way to do the drill.
andquot;Only if you're under me,andquot; the coach said, smiling, and pointing his finger at the youngster.
The exchange drew laughter from everyone on the mat.
As the drills continue many of the youngsters pick up the exercises quickly, but some just flail around on the mat. But, whether they get the idea quickly or not, all of the youngsters are trying their best and having fun.
The Y program drew 50 youngsters in Baker City and 10 more in North Powder, Gorrell said. He added that it was just coincidence that all the competitors are boys. The program was open to all youngsters in kindergarten through sixth grade.
Gorrell is being helped in the Baker camp by Jay Franicevich, and volunteers Greg Burt, Cass Shell and Brian Pauley. Powder Valley coach Brandon Young is working with the North Powder youngsters.
andquot;We were actually overwhelmed by the number of kids who signed up,andquot; Gorrell said. andquot;We've averaged between 40 and 45 kids daily during the program.andquot;
Saturday's tournament will begin at 9:30 a.m. at BHS and include wrestlers from Baker City, La Grande, Ontario, Pendleton and Hermiston.
Youngsters will be paired with opponents of equal skill levels in their same grades and weights.
Trophies, medals and certificates will be presented.
andquot;Every youngster who wrestles Saturday will come away with an award,andquot; BHS coach Dee Gorrell said.
The tournament is free to spectators.