COLUMBIA — Despite their age difference, 13-year-old Jacob Biddle was always willing to wrestle his older brother. Growing up, he squeaked in some pins here and there, but it wasn’t easy to compete with an eight-year handicap.
Biddle’s most memorable victory came last summer. His brother was on leave from the Navy, so they had a chance to grapple again. This wasn’t the typical back-yard smack down. While his brother was serving in the Navy, Biddle joined a Columbia wrestling club for middle school students created by Hickman coach J.D. Coffman.
He learned real moves and proper technique. He built up his strength and conditioning. It all helped him to take down his brother, the soldier.
“I think (the wrestling program) is going to get kids who don’t have a lot of stuff to do in better shape and have a better attitude and stuff,” Biddle said. “If they’re good enough, they can get on Hickman’s team and maybe get a scholarship for wrestling.”
But really, it’s simpler than that.
“It’s like wrestling at home, but you can get awards and stuff for it,” he said.
Coffman’s club began a year ago after he met with the Columbia middle school principals, the district athletic directors and assistant superintendents about why Columbia should have a middle school wrestling program.
“Number one to get more exposure for wrestling throughout Columbia for all the middle school kids and to give them another activity to be involved in after school,” Coffman said. “A lot of kids are not basketball players and they need something else to do in the winter time.”
Last year, about 14 sixth and seventh graders participated in the club. This year, there are about 10 eighth graders and three younger participants.
“With the weight classes it allows for kids that are not just tall and skinny basketball types,” Coffman said. “They can be 100 pounds and be a good wrestler or they can be 285 pounds and be a good wrestler. We’ve got weight classes spread around about every 5 pounds in between those.”
But Coffman does admit that not everyone is cut out for wrestling.
“One of the hardest things for kids to get over is the difficulty of the sport because it is such a physically taxing sport,” Coffman said. “In our society right now that’s made for ease and comfort, a lot of people are not used to that. It’s not for everybody.”
Coffman and his assistant coaches volunteer their time, hoping that it will improve their high school program.
“A lot of the kids we get out for wrestling at the high school team have very little experience,” Coffman said. “The majority of our team right now has less than a year of experience on average. That makes it difficult to compete when you’re going to Kansas City and St. Louis and those kids have middle schools and clubs that are just feeding their programs.”
When the new Columbia high school opens in 2013, Coffman hopes that the middle schools will make wrestling an official school sport.
“Our hope is that some day, when we do go to a true middle school system in Columbia, is that they will hire full-time coaches for this program and pick it up and have it as a middle school athletic program,” Coffman said.