By Dan Plouffe
Ottawa is hosting an unprecedented lineup of major wrestling competitions this season, with the biggest of the bunch coming up Mar. 4-6, when the OFSAA high school provincials come to TD Place arena.
Having events live and up close is a major tool to growing the sport, signals Jason Kirby, the OFSAA co-convenor alongside Cairine Wilson Secondary School colleague Guy MacDougall.
“It exposes the kids, the teachers and all the participants and attendees to the sport in a very positive way,” explains Kirby, who took the helm of the local high school wrestling circuit 6 years ago.
In recent years, there’s been a rise in the number of local schools starting wrestling programs and greater participation within existing teams, notes Kirby, who made a concerted effort to bring competitions to new schools that hadn’t traditionally welcomed tournaments before.
“It really helps build the sport when you host an event,” underlines the volunteer who doubles as the National Capital Wrestling Club’s drawmaster. “It’s organized, it’s fun, and there’s a healthy respect amongst the athletes – the winners, and the losers.”
There isn’t a much better showcase for the sport than OFSAA, which is a major 900-wrestler event, Kirby adds.
“Because it hasn’t been in Ottawa since the ’60s or ’70s, we’re hoping it’s going to continue the growth of wrestling in Ottawa,” indicates Kirby, noting another major factor in the sport’s resurgence locally is the success of Erica Wiebe, who added a 2018 World Championships bronze medal to her Rio 2016 Olympic gold this past fall.
“Erica’s from Ottawa and came through the high school system in Ottawa,” Kirby says of the Sacred Heart Catholic High School grad. “That’s a big feather in our cap.”
Local athletes have been racking up the hardware themselves in recent provincial competition. In club competition, 3 NCWC athletes earned gold medals at the Ontario Cadet/Juvenile Wrestling Championships on Feb. 2 in Brampton.
Ismail Ayyoub won the Juvenile Male 85-kilogram event, Jessica Hong topped the Juvenile Female 48 kg category, and Jasmine Tessier won the Juvenile Female 84 kg division.
Also hitting the podium were silver medallists Gabrielle Chartrand (Cadet Female 75 kg), Matt Vecchio (Juvenile Male 44 kg) and Ziad Saif El Nasr (Juvenile Male 52 kg) from NCWC, as well as Pathway’s Jennifer MacKean. NCWC’s Mitchell Robinson (Cadet Male 92 kg) and Samey Al Beajan (Juvenile Male 80 kg) were bronze medallists.
NCWC will also host the club provincials for younger youth athletes later this season on Apr. 27.
But OFSAA will come first, with four Ottawa high school wrestlers entering as defending champions – part of a 2018 campaign that saw wrestlers from the national capital association win a record number of titles (6 in total, with two seniors who have now graduated) and medals.
“Ottawa’s peaking at the right time to be hosting OFSAA,” underlines Kirby, proud to organize the first bilingual OFSAA and incorporate Indigenous heritage, all at a first-class venue on the Ottawa 67’s (covered) home rink.
“There are some really special things that have never been done before for OFSAA wrestling,” he highlights. “We’re really excited to bring it to town.”