Thursday, February 15, 2018

Highlands Wrestling Club Takes Off

Team Participated in State Tournament in Early February

Contributed Photo. The Highlands Wrestling Club began this year and currently has wrestlers between the first and eighth grades. Absent from the photo are wrestlers Peter Murriner, Rafe Pinkston and Coach Dakota Riley.
Rob Pinkston, a football player at Highlands in the mid-80s, saw his son Rilen Pinkston start wrestling at Spatola Wrestling located in Fort Thomas Plaza at a young age.

Rilen Pinkston developed a huge interest in the sport. But the Fort Thomas Independent School District does not offer wrestling as a sport. Rilen Pinkston wrestled in Campbell County's Youth Wrestling Program, but could not participate in it as a sixth grader because it becomes school sponsored at that point and not a club one.

So Coach Pinkston approached Highlands Director of Athletics Matt Haskamp and former Highlands High Principal Brian Robinson about starting a program. Coach Pinkston was told the FTISD school board wants to see a number of kids interested in it before making it school-sponsored so he started the Highlands Wrestling Club. The school added archery to its list of school sports this school year.

Barre3 Ft. Thomas. 


A number of schools in Northern Kentucky have wrestling. They are Boone County, Campbell County, Conner, Cooper, Dixie Heights, Covington Holmes, Newport, Ryle, Scott, Simon Kenton and Walton-Verona. They wrestle in Region 6.

The co-ed club currently has 18 on the roster including one girl between the first and eighth grades. Several more wrestlers have come aboard including another girl who comes from time to time. The wrestlers on the roster aside from Rilen Pinkston are Christian Stojkovic, Ivan Roller, Craig Miller, Logan Iacono, Garrett Strange, Ethan Grimm, Peter Murriner, Alex Lancaster, Jack Heilman, Brody Cook, Max Merz, Carson Schwalbach, Aiden Howard, Rafe Pinkston, Caden Woods, Nicholas Stojkovic and Mason Howard. Rob Pinkston's assistants are Joe Miller, Brian Merz, Dakota Riley, Nick Spatola and Marty Stojkovic.

"For most kids to be able to excel in wresting, it's certainly advantageous if they can take the opportunity to stay pretty focused on it when they're younger or at least have exposure to it when they're younger," Coach Pinkston said. "It's not to say they can't pick it up in high school and do well."

Sports can be club programs through middle school, but not at the high school level. The club participates in Bantam weight classes all the way up to the Cadet (middle school) level.

"We initially intended to open this first year fourth grade through eighth grade to kind of get a feel for how challenging it was to manage going to different tournaments," Coach Pinkston said. "Often times, a tournament is broken up by ages and it can be an all day long process if it's too widespread. But we ended up having some younger kids that were interested. One of them wanted to be on the team after seeing his older brother on the team. Bless his soul. He was added on to the team."

Coach Pinkston has said the development of the wrestlers has been impressive. They practice three nights per week at Spatola Wrestling.

"In this environment that we live in, things tend to be handed to us easily. You have to work at wrestling," Coach Pinkston said. "You're going to get out of it what you put into it. Certainly when you start wrestling, it doesn't matter what kind of athlete you are, you still don't have the body awareness that a wrestler has until you start to understand how to control your body so you lose a lot. To be able to have the coping skills it takes to be able to take being beat and handle that with humility I think is a great thing to develop. It's not that I want to see kids develop into something where they're used to getting beat. That's not the point. The point is to be able to handle the challenges that life gives you and strive. Wrestling definitely helps you be able to do that."

The club has participated in 11 matches this year against schools in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. They have all been on the road because the club is negotiating a place for home matches with FTISD. Coach Pinkston said the club can wrestle against both club and school-sponsored teams.

The team has seen every wrestler win a match this year. The club participated in the state tournament on Sunday and Max Merz, a fourth grader, won the state championship in his class and Woods earning runner-up honors in his class. Max Merz is in the process of moving into the FTISD school district. Sixth graders Rilen Pinkston and Christian Stojkovic won third in their class with fourth graders Howard and Rafe Pinkston picking up fifth in their respective classes.

"There are some wrestlers that don't even score a point in their first season," Coach Pinkston said. "It's been a really great season to see these kids grow. They're having fun. They're developing as a team. Wrestling is an individualistic sports where it's just you and one other person out there on that mat. But they're still developing cohesiveness as a team and that's pretty cool to see."

The club has one last match this season. It is the Spatola Classic that takes place on March 31.

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