Public Media for Alaska's Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Alaska's top teams compete at Bethel Wrestling Invitational

Student athletes from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta got to test their mettle against a three-year-old Fairbanks private school called Student Wrestling Development Program (SWDP) and last year’s state wrestling champions, South Anchorage High School.

South Anchorage Wolverines Head Coach Randy Hanson did not bring the girls team, but the high school boys did take first in the Bethel tournament.

“I mean, top to bottom our team is full of a lot of very, very good individuals. You know, some upperclassmen that are looking to win state titles this year, and then we have some rock solid freshmen that are, you know, jumping on the scene and hoping to win state titles as freshmen. But overall, we're a team; they work hard. They hold each other accountable and they have fun with a sport, which is why they can show up every day and wrestle as hard as they can," said Hanson, who is a Bethel Regional High School alumnus and is in his fifth year as head wrestling coach at South. Two of his wrestlers received the outstanding wrestler award.

“Jacob Morris and Zane Gerlach are both voted on by the coaches as outstanding wrestlers. They're two freshmen in our program. They just work hard and they enjoy the sport. And it shows when they compete because they go out there and they love to compete. And they put it on the line every time they wrestle. And they wrestled really well this weekend,” Hanson said.

Both boys and girls SWDP teams took second place in the tournament. The team of about 70 is composed of middle and high school students from Fairbanks. Head director and founder of the school, Westley Bockert Jr., thinks that competing in places off the road system is important for student development.

“T​​his is a great tournament to come to because it includes everybody. And kind of encourages the kids in Fairbanks at that younger age to keep wrestling all year round, even though they're not in season. So we get to come here. And I think there's some social aspects that you get here, and staying here in the school with some of the kids from the village and out in the far areas where we don't get exposed to, and I think my kids have a good time here being part of that,” Bockert Jr. said.

Although the school is young, Bockert Jr. said that his team is in the top three in the state. His success can be attributed to a coaching philosophy that revolves around discipline.

“If we're controlling the tempo of the match we're gonna make them wrestle the way we want to. If we're not controlling the tempo, we're obviously wrestling the way they want us to. So, you know, I just want to see us, really ourselves, take control of where we should be in the match regardless of who we're looking to wrestle,” Bockert Jr. said.

As for the boys from Bethel, they finished in third place. Leading them was senior Ellis Johnson, who placed second in the 160 pound weight class.

On the girls side, the Lady Warriors continued their first place win streak by outscoring SWDP by more than 20 points. The coach for the Lady Warriors, Martin Smith, said that this tournament brings out the competition.

“There's a couple of good kids out of Quinhagak. St. Mary's has got some good kids. You know, it's kids like that, individuals like that to just help make our programs stronger,” Smith said. 

The state championships will be held at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage from Dec. 15 to Dec. 16.

Francisco Martínezcuello was the KYUK News Reporting Fellow from November 2022 through January 2024. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He is also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.
Related Content