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Reports From Aspen Times and Longhorn Roundup

Wrestling Returns To Basalt High School

By: Jon Maletz

BASALT — Ryan Bradley feared the dream he had struggled desperately to keep afloat was about to sink.
The Basalt Middle School science teacher and wrestling coach was sitting in a school board meeting earlier this year, patiently listening as official after official voiced opposition to his plan to return wrestling to the high school after a 10-year hiatus.
“The district finance lady gets up and says, ‘This is a horrible idea that shouldn't happen,'” Bradley recalled Tuesday. “Then, the assistant superintendent gets up and says, ‘This shouldn't happen.' It was frustrating.”
He was undeterred. After all, Bradley had succeeded in turning a floundering middle school wrestling program on the verge of extinction into a Western Slope champion in a few short years after relocating to the valley in 2008. He and other coaches, including former Longhorns standout Thad Eshelman, donated their time, their money and their energy, coaching for free, driving the bus — anything to curtail costs.
Bradley witnessed how wrestling and sports can embolden young men (he was an academic All-State performer in high school in St. Louis, Missouri). He was determined to develop a high school program.
He was determined not to let his kids down.
“I used to coach at Regis (Jesuit in Aurora), and it was a really cool experience, but the kids there didn't need wrestling,” Bradley said. “They all had wealthy parents and were going to college. They all had good food to eat and were all good students. … They didn't have huge struggles in life, weren't coming out of poverty or struggling with a new language and struggling in school.
“These kids have been amazing, and they need this. They deserve this.”
Every one of Bradley's assistants had a chance to address the school board. Bradley was the last to take the microphone.
“‘The school district spends thousands and thousands of dollars on computer programs to analyze test scores, but what really matters are kids and the connections they have with teachers and coaches,'” he told the crowd. “‘It's not about the sport, but what you can learn from it. Those skills — hard work, discipline, dedication — that's what will make sure these kids have success in their lives.'
“I promised we could deliver academic success if we got the team. … I held my breath while they were voting.”
Three years after he and Eshelman first met with school directors and were summarily dismissed, Bradley received his answer: The board unanimously approved the high school wrestling team provided the program could be self-funded.
“It was one the most exciting moments, and there was a huge celebration,” Bradley said. “Then, I was thinking, ‘Oh, crap, how are we going to pay for this thing?'”
The panic was short-lived. After all, he and the Basalt coaches have been here before. They've been doing whatever it takes to support the middle school program, which now boasts more than 40 participants — 10 times the number it had in 2008 — while providing opportunities for older student-athletes.
“The last few years, I was driving kids down to Glenwood (High School), where I was an assistant coach,” Bradley said. “I'd have to get out of school after the bell rang, grab a mini bus and pick kids up at the high school, drive all the way down there, then drive them all back and return the bus. We did that five times a week. I wouldn't get home until 7:30. It was killing me, killing the kids.
“We only got seven or eight kids a year because it's tough to compete at another school. High School sports are about getting to represent your school.”
Last year, Bradley and others ran the middle school program without any assistance from the district.
“It was crazy. One weekend, we won the middle school conference title and won a huge trophy, … and then I come in on Monday, and they tell me they're eliminating the program,” Bradley said, his voice filled with emotion. “It broke my heart.”
But not his spirit.
He reached out to the community for aid, and the pleas have been answered.
An impassioned appeal at the Aspen Thrift Store last year resulted in funding for new equipment.
“We were using old high school uniforms from like 2002,” Bradley said. “A teenage boy going out on the mat in a singlet is embarrassing but even more so when they're all frayed and ripping apart.”
In addition to support from personal donors and other businesses, Big O Tires provided funding and created coupon cards to hand out to customers, committing to donate 5 percent of future sales to the wrestling program.
The cards will serve as tickets Thursday night, when the team hosts a movie night at the Basalt Middle School auditorium. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the wrestling film “Veritas” will be screened at 7 p.m. Cost is $5 for children and $10 for adults.
“It's been a true community effort. Oh my God, we got another $1,000 today in donations,” Bradley gushed. “Everyone has really delivered, and we're all very grateful.”
The Longhorns will hit the mat Dec. 1 in Hotchkiss. It will be a poignant moment, Bradley said.
“It's been a long time coming,” he said. “I'm really proud of the core group of kids, the kids who drove to Glenwood every day and competed for another school. These seniors who started with me now get to finish at their own school.
“These kids have inspired me. They made me love wrestling again.”

Homecoming For the Basalt High Schools Wrestling Program
By: Cristian Joya

Basalt -- After  years of not being able to have a high school wrestling team, Ryan Bradley along with Thaddeus Eshelman managed to pull off their longtime goal of restarting the high school wrestling program in Basalt.
With the new program now housed in Basalt, Mr. Bradley, 8th grade science teacher at  BMS, is psyched not to have to drive the minibus over to the high school to pick up his wrestlers after school for a 50 mile round trip to GSHS just to practice. "It’s happening in Basalt, so that’s kind of exciting that we don't have to drive to Glenwood everyday!" 
    The School district was opposed to having another wrestling team in the district despite offers from Bradley and Eshelman to pay for the team, drive the bus, and coach for free. The district, facing spending cuts, was thinking that the program would start up and they would get stuck with the bill.
Two years ago budget cuts forced funding for the middle school wrestling programs in both Glenwood and Basalt to disappear. At the same time funding for both boys and girls swimming were eliminated in Glenwood. The swimming teams appealed to the school board and were allowed to continue provided they could fund their own programs. This established a precedent within the school district for self-funded teams.
Eshelman and Bradley seized the moment to push for a wrestling program in Basalt. First, a call was made to Harry Waterman the director of high school wrestling in Colorado. He said that Basalt could have a varsity wrestling program its 1st year back provided he received a letter by February 19th 2012.
Having previously been denied by the school district administration Bradley and Eshelman went directly to the school board. They first brought the idea up at board meeting at BHS in January 2012. Eshelman and all the Basalt coaches emailed and wrote letters to the board members. The next board meeting was February 16th and if the board did not approve their proposal they would have to wait another year to have a team.
With the new school board in place, the team asked the board to vote on it. It was a tense moment. The District administration was arguing that they could not establish a new sports program in a time of budget cuts, but Eshelman and Bradley weren’t asking for money just an opportunity. When the board voted it was unanimous! Basalt wrestling would be re-born after a 10 year death sentence.
School board President Matt Hamilton whose wife teaches in Carbondale gave his reason for supporting the team, “The decision was made because a group of committed volunteers stepped forward to coach and fundraise on the program’s behalf. ”
This year the Wrestling program had a movie night and freshman Cristian Joya built a website to help fundraise. The movie night was held at Basalt Middle School and was about a college wrestler that kept pursuing his dream to wrestle despite the danger of losing his eyesight. The movie nights made 725 dollars and was a success. The website is not only for information and donations but also for people that want to sponsor it. The team hopes this will help with the “price tag” of this program.
    The BHS wrestling team frequently has nights where there are 5 coaches at practice for the 25 wrestlers. Bradley and Eshelman are of course there, but with the new high school program some new coaches have emerged. All of these coaches are working for free and some have donated large amounts of money. Jason Gleasman is a two time world champion and a 1996 Olympian. Matt Whistler a geography teacher at BHS, Ralph Smalley a physical education teacher at BHS, along with PJ Bory, Shawn Oneil, and Yuani Ruiz will all be helping this years wrestlers.
“ Sports provide an excellent opportunity for students to develop leadership, teamwork skills while setting goals and building confidence.  The commitment of the coaches and community to this program are critical to its success.  Without their leadership there would be no wrestling team,” said Matt Hamilton RFSD school board president.
The wrestling program will be held at the Basalt Middle School’s auxiliary gym. The wrestling team can now spend there 1.5 hours practicing instead of driving to and from Glenwood Springs (High School). With the goal to have everyone not only academically eligible but also doing their best to place at state this years team has lofty goals. Many schools know that Basalt can compete on the middle school level, but the team wants to show that they can also win at the high school level.
“Wrestling is all about overcoming adversity, as Dan Gable said, “After you have wrestled everything else is easy.” Wrestling takes a lot of courage, commitment, and sacrifice. If Kids learn these values they can overcome any challenge in life.” said Ryan Bradley

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