By Anna Kate Boyd
The Oxford Park Commission moves forward in establishing youth wrestling in the city of Oxford.
On Wednesday, Brandon Beckerdite, of the Mississippi Wrestling Foundation received approval from the OPC Board to host youth wrestling clubs and practices at the Ulysses “Coach” Howell Activity Center. This approval will expand sports opportunities to the LOU community and potentially could be offered as a sport in Oxford schools.
The foundation plans to recruit local coaches and purchase the resources needed to get the program started and fulfill their goal of “…[starting] the sport of wrestling and reintroducing it to kids in high schools in the state of Mississippi”.
Wrestling would be the first hands-on individual sport offered in Oxford to girls and boys beginning as early as elementary school. Beckerdite has recruited over 20 children, primarily girls, to establish the program as the state’s first recreational program.
After some questions about how the program would run, the OPC board unanimously agreed to facilitate the program and provide the previous gymnastics gym as a practice space. Chris Bush, Oxford High School assistant principal and board member, offered to connect Beckerdite with Oxford schools.
Seth Gaines, the Director of the Oxford Park Commission, stated that adding wrestling will be a great addition to the community.
“[The] first step we take is that we complete the information exchange between the group and OPC to make sure we agree on registration dues and class objectives,” Gaines said. “Then it will be put online for people to be able to register for. It will allow us to offer one more thing to the community; one more program, one more outreach … We will continue to try and offer an array of programs, traditional and non-traditional.”
During the meeting, Gaines stated that a wrestling plan had been proposed and supported a few years ago, but the program did not work out. Beckerdite’s project addresses the concerns that were previously expressed due to a lack of instructors and coaches.
“We have always been open to it … we are very supportive of [this plan],” Gaines said.
While advocating for the wrestling program’s implementation, local Army recruiter Officer Jarret Stewart told his story of how wrestling changed his life and saved him from poverty, hardship, and potentially jail.
“Wrestling caused my discipline and my academics to skyrocket … it became ‘if I don’t do this, if I don’t study for this, I can’t wrestle. I went from that troubled kid to graduating with a 3.6 GPA,” Stewart said.
He hopes this program will help kids in similar situations and be a safe place for kids to come to and can prevent after-school trouble for some LOU students.
Due to the March 2nd announcement by Gov. Tates Reeves that lifted the mask mandate in the state of Mississippi, the Oxford Activity Center can now accommodate the new sport despite some restrictions.
According to John Davis, community relations director of the Oxford Park Commission, this announcement allows the center to expand its capacity to 50 percent. Furthermore, this now allows the facility to bring back part-time workers. This provides more flexibility for the wrestling program to take place at OPC facilities.
“We look forward to the day when we really can open them back up and offer the hours, and weekends, like the community, was used to prior to COVID-19 restrictions,” said Davis.
The representatives of the wrestling program that were present at the board meeting expressed their excitement to expand into the Oxford community due to the excellent facilities and community involvement.
Kinney Ferris, executive director of the Oxford Tourism Department, explains the Activity Center’s importance throughout the LOU community.
“The Activity Center serves so many roles for our community. One way is through leisure classes like gymnastics, martial arts, yoga, and more,” Ferris said. “My family has enjoyed it most recently while my son is playing youth basketball. It’s truly a jewel for our community, and we are very fortunate to have it. The facility is so nice and spacious … the OPC staff do an amazing job of running it.”
The new addition of wrestling to OPC will add to the list of afterschool activities offered by the city. The wrestling program plans to begin practicing by summer 2021, while competition season will take place in the winter.