BY ETTIE NEWLANDS
Four months ago, 10-year-old Jackson Clark wasn’t paying attention.
“He was distant, he’d pull back into himself,” his adoptive father, Stephen Clark, said.
The Myrtle Beach Intermediate School fourth-grader has a hyper-activity disorder. When he was born, while he fortunately didn’t have any withdrawal symptoms, he was drug addicted.
Stephen and Danielle Clark encouraged their adopted son to try football, baseball, soccer and lacrosse, but he couldn’t find his niche.
Four months ago, he did, on the wrestling mat.
Clark started wrestling with the Grand Strand Hurricanes Wrestling Club, and it literally changed his life.
In his first tournament, he went 3-0 and won first place.
“Not only did he win, but it boosted his confidence so that he interacted and played around with his teammates,” said Craig Coppola, founder of the wrestling club.
“I got to wrestle really good and was proud of myself and happy,” Jackson said about his win.
Stephen Clark said his son wasn’t much of a team player before, didn’t like practices and found it overwhelming to be around so many other kids at once.
“Trying to tune into a coach screaming orders to a whole team was way beyond his ability to grasp,” he said. “Wrestling is just one on one, just you and the other guy. Your coach is off to the side yelling only to you.”
Since he started wrestling at the X Sports Gym Mall on George Bishop Parkway in Myrtle Beach, Clark’s schoolwork improved also.
In special education classes because of learning difficulties, he had MAP testing shortly after winning the wrestling tournament.
“His reading improved so much that next year, he’ll be in a regular reading class,” his father said, adding, “and his math is close to that as well.”
There are about 70 boys registered at the Hurricanes club, and about a half dozen girls. It’s open to the kids every day. Sundays at noon are reserved for high school classes and older. On Mondays, people come and go, doing their own thing. On Tuesdays and Thursdays there are youth classes for children 13 and younger. On Wednesdays and Fridays, there are high school classes. And Saturdays are generally reserved for tournaments.
The club is free, and is run entirely on donations by volunteers. When it started last summer, Coppola and his partner, Angela Wunderlich, funded it 100 percent. Now, they have a little help but not nearly enough.
The club, a 501 (C) 3 non-profit, needs sponsors and volunteers. Coppola and Wunderlich are also looking for people willing to serve on the club’s board. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/GrandStrandHurricanes, email email@example.com, or call Coppola at 843-877-0590 or Wunderlich at 631-316-2710.
Coppola said a recent survey indicated the primary reason kids don’t participate in sports is the expense. His club is free because he believes “every child who wants to wrestle should have the opportunity to wrestle.”
He said the club is beneficial to kids who have never wrestled before as well as those who are seasoned varsity wrestlers.
Eighth-grader Cameron Cherry, who’s wrestled for 10 years, is at the gym every day wrestling. “I’ve learned about diet and self-defense and discipline,” he said.
“Wrestling teaches you that respect is something you earn, something you have to work for. You can’t rely on other people, it’s something you have to do yourself.”
“In baseball,” Coppola said, “it’s a team. You can say that this person dropped the ball and that person struck out. Wrestling is only you.”
“It forces a child to be accountable, you can’t blame anyone but yourself,’ Wunderlich said.
Her son, 10th-grader PJ Wunderlich has been wrestling since he was about 5 years old, and helps coach the other kids at the club.
“When they start, they don’t always know what they’re doing, but they have such potential, and pretty soon they’re strong,” he said.
“Wrestling becomes a lifestyle and there’s a saying in wrestling,” Angela Wunderlich said…”You don’t lose, you learn.”