Colville tribal member Jon Atkins of Wilbur-Creston-Keller faces Duwayne Magruder of Kittitas in the first round of wrestling at Mat Classic XXIX, Feb. 17 in Tacoma.

It’s easy to speak in superlatives, saying, ‘The Colville tribe will soon enter a golden age in Washington wrestling,’ and though I’ll cautiously refuse to compare this group to any group I might not know, I’m excited as a fan.

Look at the tribal athletes: The tribe has young wrestlers who’ve already made their mark and more upcoming who’ve yet to reach grade nine and the chance to wrestle inside the Tacoma Dome.

Kyler Romero’s coach called him ‘already seasoned,’ and he was right. The young wrestler, a freshman at Toppenish High School who placed second at Mat Classic XXIX, is technically sound, physically strong and hungry. Talking from experience, if there is anything to make a wrestler even hungrier – to work harder in the off-season and come into the high school room as close to state finals-ready as possible in November – it’s second place.

The same is true for Navarro Nanpuya, a sophomore at Omak who placed fourth against Colville’s John Knight. Nanpuya is funky and fun to watch. He has intelligence on the mat that is palpable. You see in his scrambles a thought process that comes from experience – and that will only sharpen with more experience over the next two years. At one of the tougher weight classes in 1A, Nanpuya will be competitive in 2018, 2019 and probably beyond.

Wilbur-Creston-Keller’s Jon Avery Atkins too has a bright future. The young grappler bar-be-qued in the B-tournament’s 126-pound bracket, losing his first two matches – but he was there. He will take back to WCK’s mat room the experience of the state tournament and he knows now what it takes to get past the first day. The experience can create goals, create leadership and create drive that focuses a young competitor.

Then too are the athletes that nearly made it – Ida Sue Dick and Taylor Circle of Lake Roosevelt were both alternates. Dick was able to practice in the Dome, Thursday evening, which I believe is irreplaceable experience. Next year, I hope she remembers the size of it, the adrenaline and strives toward the goal of returning.

I know Romero too has a younger sister, Alazaye Romero, who is following her older brother’s footsteps.

I know Omak’s youth wrestling program is booming under the direction of high school assistant coach Dean Agee. Recently, in a letter read off in Colville Business Council chambers, Agee noted in last year’s group 90 of 125 youth wrestlers were tribal members. He further noted 75 percent of the middle school program was also tribal. 

Keller, Grand Coulee, Inchelium and Nespelem have good little guy programs.

If those numbers can transfer to high school…but no doubt, it’s challenging. High school wrestling competes with high school basketball. The season is long and wrestling is hard. There’s no two ways about becoming a very good wrestler. 

I talked with Jeff Jordan, former state champion from Colfax High School who topped Okanogan’s Tyler Peasley in the finals in 2005. Peasley had beat Jordan at regionals 11-1. In the week between state and regionals, Jordan told me he practiced just for the one match – the state championship match that he knew would be against Peasley – and earned the 125-pound title as a sophomore. The next year, he lost out before the medal round. His senior year, he was ineligible and didn’t make state at all.

Then there are stories like two-timer Shane Innes Jr. or Drake Ferguson, who placed first last year and second this year. The two both dominated after relatively bland early high school years.

Who knows what will happen, but regardless, it’ll be fun to watch and maybe – maybe – it’ll be a golden era. 

In the Non-Diegetic

Justus Caudell writes In the Non-Diegetic. He grew up off-the-grid in Keller, but can now be reached at his office in Nespelem.

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