Wrestling program taking off in northern B.C. village, after 15 years without one

For 15 years the wrestling program in Hazelton was dormant, even though the northern B.C. village is home of two Olympic wrestlers: gold medallist Carol Huynh and Lyndsay Belisle.

In 2018, three coaches got together to bring it back, and now they're trying to take things to the next level.

"For years people have been wanting someone to start a new program here," said coach Tim Sullivan, whose father Joe Sullivan was a well known coach in the area.

Before last year, Sullivan had been working out of town and wasn't able to coach, but that changed and now he's joined forces with fellow coaches Jennifer Zyp and Tom Lee.

Submitted by Tim Sullivan

All three of them used to wrestle on the local high school team, the Spartans. Now, they coach the Spartans, in conjunction with an amateur wrestling club for kids of all ages.

"For me, wrestling, I tell the kids was the foundation for my work ethic since high school," said Sullivan.

"It taught me really how far I can push myself."

There are 20 kids registered, 11 of them girls. Thirteen of the kids are in high school, but Sullivan hopes they can further expand to include more elementary kids and maybe even an adult program one day.

"We have a lot of really, really strong girls who know a lot more moves than some of the boys do," said Fiona Sullivan, 14, daughter of the coach.

"When I go onto the mat, all I think about is, 'I have to win.' I have to just push myself even if I feel like I'm going to just fall down and cry. I just have to keep going, and keep going."

Fiona and her sister are a big reason why Sullivan decided to come back to the sport.

Submitted by Tim Sullivan

"My two daughters were the main motivation for me to take it on as they both wanted to wrestle and my oldest started high school the same time we got the program off the ground," he said.

 "I really feel like wrestling has extremely strong values attached to it and wanted that for them."

Team member Curtis Spooner, 17, said the sport has taught him about determination.

"I've found that I've been more motivated to pursue lots of things in my life since I've joined wrestling, because I have that drive now that I didn't really have before," he said.

"It gives you an amazing feeling of accomplishment every time you get a move correct or something that you've practiced for hours and hours and it just works out awesome — I love that."

Rebuilding wrestling in the north

What Sullivan really thinks the team needs now is more funding for equipment so they can train better and host tournaments to help "rebuild wrestling in the north."

Right now, the club practices on the same mats that Sullivan used in the 1980s.

"When I was wrestling in the late '80s there was wrestling clubs in every town in the north," he said, adding that "the whole town" used to come watch the local tournament.

"Now, wrestling is all but dead, and if we can secure some funding, we're hoping that we could bring some coaching conferences and refereeing conferences, there's very few refs up here."

The Spartans compete next in Prince George this weekend for one of the largest annual wrestling events, the Kelly Road Open Tournament.