By ED GOTWALS
Three years ago, the Lincoln Highway Wrestling Club was started in Chambersburg PA.
This past season, the Chambersburg Trojans had their most successful postseason by far, taking sixth in the PIAA Tournament team standings with a trio of placewinners.
Not a chance.
The nature of high school wrestling in Pennsylvania is such that very few kids are able to compete at the highest level unless they devote a considerable amount of time to the sport in the offseason.
That means tournaments in the spring, lifting and technique work in the summer and conditioning to get ready for the season.
That's what the Lincoln Highway Club provides for area wrestlers.
"Now's the time of year that we can hammer on the teaching part of it, "said Matt Mentzer, an assistant for the Trojans who is the head coach for Lincoln Highway. "I'm not interested so much in the competition right now; it's about improving your skills. I'm a little more patient this time of year; I smile a little more."
With a roomful of kids during the regular season, Trojan head coach Doug Rine and his staff do a lot of work on technique. But their emphasis is elsewhere.
"We have to concentrate on getting them in shape, both physically and mentally, "Rine said. "In the summer we concentrate on technique. Matt can be very specific on things that an individual wrestler can do and they can work on it. He does an outstanding job of seeing those little things a kid can do to improve, and they've really helped."
It was a good break for Chambersburg when Mentzer came to town.
He was a standout wrestler at Big Spring (graduated in 1990) and at Shippensburg University, where he was a two-time NCAA Division II All-American. He had previously been an assistant coach at Big Spring and Ship U.
Mentzer is a fifth-grade teacher at Fayetteville Elementary. He and his wife Dawn have two kids, a daughter (Morgan, 11) and son (Luke, 6), who is one of the club's youngest members.
Once Mentzer relocated here, he became a volunteer assistant for the Trojans.
And after the first year, he helped found the Lincoln Highway Club.
"Coach Rine and I and (youth coach) Chris Bender talked about having a sanctioned club here, "Mentzer said, "so we started practicing and did the paperwork to join USA Wrestling. I think the club gives kids in this area a place to go where they're comfortable."
In the past, local kids who wanted to work with a wrestling club had to go to Carlisle or beyond. It took a lot more time and expense to do that.
The Chambersburg Wrestling Booster Club is the club's driving force.
"Our setup with the booster club is allowing us to do things we didn't have the resources to do before, "Rine said.
Mentzer said, "The booster club has been great, but it has to continue to grow. The more hands on deck, the stronger it is and the stronger we are. It goes hand-in-hand."
The club introduces wrestlers to freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, which are different than the folkstyle wrestling used in high school and college. Greco-Roman is primarily throws with no leg wrestling involved, while freestyle emphasizes takedowns.
Mentzer said, "I knew kids would benefit if we exposed them to those different styles, with the throws and different techniques. Kids get drilled in the same things all year, but these are different -- they're learning new things."
The coaches are also learning new moves. Mentzer keeps busy in the offseason doing research on the Internet to increase his repertoire. Last week he was taking notes while watching the Russian national championships.
The extra work wrestlers have gotten on their feet has made a difference.
Dawson Peck, who was the 285-pound state runner-up last year, is a prime example.
"The first year I was here, we couldn't beg Dawson to go to a freestyle tournament, "Mentzer said. "But by working on these different styles, it forced Dawson to wrestle on his feet. You can't take top in freestyle, you have to take your man down. He started doing it after his sophomore year and ... see what happened?"
Chambersburg's other state runner-up, Garett Hammond, as well as fifth-place finisher Tanner Shoap, have also benefited.
Rine said, "The kids who have done well -- that's a reflection of refining their technique in the summer."
The Lincoln Highway Club has kids as young as 6 all the way up to high school. Thre are also several kids from other high schools who are members.
The club has nearly 40 members and the summer sessions usually get from 15 to 30 kids each night, with all ages working together. That enables the young kids to learn from the older kids.
Mentzer said, "The young kids just getting into it see guys like Dawson, Garett and Tanner and see how hard they work at it. It gives them role models and mentors. The other day we had a young kid who will be a heavyweight work for half an hour with Dawson, a state runner-up.
"So these kids will set high goals and know what they have to do to achieve them."