It's been many years since Sherman Hillier joined his own high school wrestling team, but this season he helped Howe Sound Secondary students find their own love for the sport.
"People did it for me, so I figure I should pass it on," he said.
Recalling Squamish once had a high school wrestling team, Hillier contacted Howe Sound Secondary's outdoor leadership teacher Joel Harwood, and they found the mats. In November, they started rounding up interested students.
They started with around 15 students, including seven girls and eight boys. Soon, the students would practice twice a week for two hours a session. On Monday nights, they'd go to Carson Graham Secondary for open practice with other North Shore teams.
"It's full-on for two hours. They're sweating and working really hard," Hillier said.
Eight Grade 11 students ended up competing in 10 meets, as well as a competition in Gibsons and the Western Canada Age Class at Douglas College in Coquitlam.
Two of their wrestlers qualified for provincials in Langley on Feb. 17, after one of the girls won her weight class in zones, and one of the boys placed third in zones. Some of the HSS wrestlers have been invited to practice with the North Shore wrestling team who are slated for Nationals.
They also started a club at Don Ross Middle School, although they haven't gone to competition yet.
"The other thing that's interesting is I've had an at least equal number of girls to guys, which is a bit remarkable. Generally, they have a pretty hard time getting female wrestlers," Hillier said.
The benefits of wrestling, he said, start with the low cost of the sport. Athletes just need gym clothes and a pair of shoes to wrestle.
"That's the beauty of it — it's not an expensive sport," Hillier said. "I always tell them wrestling's a bit of a grind. It's one of those sports that tends to build confidence and it's a good outlet for kids. It can be a lonely sport. You're by yourself, so it's amazing when you win. When you lose, you have to dig deep — there's nobody you can look at but yourself. I think that it really helps kids reflect and learn."
Hillier said they hope to start the wrestling season earlier at Howe Sound Secondary and Don Ross Middle School next year.