Raider grapplers spend night locked in


HUNTINGBURG — Building chemistry has been part of building sports teams since time immemorial, but figuring out ways to cultivate that strong sense of unity can be daunting. What’s the best way to turn a group of boys into brothers?

Well, for Southridge wrestling coach Kurt Collins, it started with locking his wrestlers in at the high school Saturday.

“This started as an idea about four weeks ago,” he said. “One of the parents and I were talking after a booster meeting, and he just threw it out as an idea. I liked it at the time, pondered it over the next couple days, and I was like, ‘That’s a good idea.’”

So Collins went about gauging interest among the team members. He also started reaching out to Raider wrestling alums who qualified for state at one point or another in their high school career. Collins received what he called a “great response” from both the current and former wrestlers, and went about plotting the event logistics for the next few weeks leading up to Saturday.

The wrestlers started descending on Southridge at 6 p.m., and they needed to sort out the most important point on their agenda — who was going to eat first during the team meal. To that end, Collins arranged for Nick Fischer, an Indiana National Guardsman, to come in and lead the boys in a team-building exercise to determine who got first dibs at dinner. The exercise was a knot-tying competition where teams of four raced to fashion their ropes the fastest. One person read the directions and issued instructions, while the others worked to tie various knots. After about 20 minutes or so, an eating order was determined and the team shared its meal.

After dinner, Collins moved the team to the school’s library so the members could hear from past state qualifiers. They started by showing a video sent in from Tommy Hansford, who was the first Raider wrestler to qualify for state twice. He shared stories of his struggles with wrestling in sixth grade and how he used the experience to motivate himself and push his limits far beyond what he thought was possible. That was one of the common themes that came from the group, which included nine former wrestlers and former coach Al Mihajlovits, who started the wrestling program in 1973. The presentation was capped by words from Stanley Gress, Dubois County’s first-ever state wrestling champion. He challenged the boys to write and share their personal and team goals with one another so they could hold one another accountable during the season.

The rest of the night was filled with games, hijinks and all the other stuff that goes into building team camaraderie. The boys romped around until almost 5 a.m. with cornhole tournaments, dodgeball and movies in the library. They might not have known what to expect going into the lock-in, but by all accounts, the event was a success.

“I wasn’t really sure what we were getting into and what was going to go on,” said senior Sam Schroeder. “But Coach Collins did a great job with setting things up, getting speakers and getting the guys involved in team-bonding stuff. It exceeded my expectations. I had a blast. So did all my friends.”

“The event was great,” Collins added. “The boys loved it. Quite a few of them were a little apprehensive, but they came. The way that it went, it changed their mind and they had a great time.”

This is only the start of the Raiders’ journey as they prepare for their first match this weekend against Tell City, but the lock-in seems to have worked in boosting the team’s spirit, unity and confidence levels for the season. They look forward to getting out on the mats and putting the words they heard on Saturday into action — push it to the limit.

“The common theme was you got to work hard,” Schroeder said. “Wrestling is one of the most difficult sports because you got to work hard even when you’re not getting recognition for it. They said we got to keep working. It’s about working hard, because it’ll all eventually pay off.”

“I have a high expectation of them,” Collins said. “I want them to get as far as they can get, and achieve beyond their personal expectations. My job as a coach is to help each individual realize there is so much more to them than what they allow themselves [to believe]. That’s part and parcel what they may have seen or heard in those conversations.”

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