Wrestlers struggle to find permanent home for practice

Monday, January 15, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:31 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

At 3 p.m. in Hickman’s lower common area, wrestlers meet at the concrete bench under the staircase for practice. Within minutes, their afternoon ritual begins.

They make their way down an adjacent hallway, harboring five large purple mats. Three wrestlers push each rolled mat on wheeled steel racks through a set of double doors to the common area and unroll them onto the tiled floor.

The Hickman wrestling team has been homeless since the beginning of this season. So the team must practice in the lower common room, located by the school’s front entrance. The Columbia Public School District doesn’t have the money or support to build a new sports facility, and head wrestling coach J.D. Coffman can’t find available space elsewhere.

The team makes do, but the room isn’t conducive for wrestling. The area is chilly, even for athletes, and busy with students and staff coming and going. Coffman said the coaches, wrestlers and parents are frustrated with the lack of progress made on behalf of the school district and Hickman’s booster clubs.

Until December 2005, the wrestling team practiced in a tiny room beneath the bleachers of the Hickman football stadium.

“In the winter when it snowed or when it rained really hard, the room leaked and water got under the mats,” Coffman said. “Mold and mildew grew everywhere.”

Ring worm and other infections were common. Senior wrestler K.C. Pescaglia said that during his sophomore year, one of the wrestlers got a staph infection.

The room under the bleachers also didn’t have enough space for everyone to wrestle at the same time.

“The varsity wrestled in the room,” Coffman said. “And the JV and C teams wrestled on two mats in the breeze-way, hallway right there. They didn’t wrestle together.”

But in December 2005, the team secured a room in the theatrical department at Stephens College. The Pescaglia family, which at the time had three brothers on the team, paid the rent for the room.

Assistant coach Dennis Noie said that though the room at Stephens was smaller, it was nice for the team to have its own space.

Less that two months later, though, the theatrical department informed Coffman that at the end of the wrestling season it was expanding and needed the room for storing wardrobe and props.

So the coaches and administration began brainstorming and looking for a new place to lay down the mats.

Coffman and some of the parents wrote letters to the wrestling team’s booster club. The parents proposed a facility not only for wrestling, but also for physical education classes, dance, aerobics and other teams’ meetings. Bucky Pescaglia, father of K.C. and sophomore wrestler Vince Pescaglia, wrote one letter, but the booster club turned down the proposal for the new multi-purpose sports facility, according to Coffman.

It was the latest setback.

Plans for a new facility were initially to be completed when K.C. Pescaglia was a sophomore, two years ago.

“A couple of years ago, parents were going to support building a new facility for Hickman,” said Lynn Barnett, a representative for the Columbia Board of Education. “But it fell through.”

In March 2006, the school district approved plans to put new turf on Hickman and Rock Bridge’s football fields. The renovation was completed this summer, costing the district $1.41 million.

“It’s not fair,” junior wrestler Drae Cox said. “My freshman year, they were supposed to build us a new room and nothing happened. And then the football team gets a new turf.”

Pescaglia said he shared the same feelings.

But Coffman and Noie said they understood the situation with the football field.

“That plan was in the works for a long time,” Noie said. “That doesn’t bother us.”

For this season’s wrestling room, Coffman said the staff considered using the “annex,” which is a room separating the lower common area from the cafeteria. But moving the mats in and out of the room would have been too difficult.

They finally settled on using the lower common area for wrestling practice.

The lower commons, while larger than the other rooms, is the most inconvenient among the three. The wrestlers must set up and take down the mats in the common room for every practice.

Pescaglia has practiced in all three rooms during his four years on the wrestling team.

“I liked the room at Stephens best,” Pescaglia said. “There were posts, but at least we didn’t have to roll mats.”

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