Amateur wrestling at the 2014 NL Winter Games in Clarenville is an honest sport.
That’s how Labrador, and former Carbonear Collegiate, wrestling coach Randy Ralph describes it.
It is not to say the other disciplines are not honest, but wrestling is quite unique.
“When I go to pick a team, it’s not about who is best, it’s whoever wins. You’ve got to earn your spot,” said Ralph. “When an athlete is on the mat, the coach can’t help them, the parents can’t help them.”
The Labrador team is made up of six athletes from Sheshatshiu. Ralph became involved with the team after their regular coach was unable to attend because of a previous commitment.
Ralph was only too happy to take the reins of the team.
“It’s good because otherwise their kids would not have been able to compete,” he said.
Save for provincial Easter hockey tournaments, these athletes do not receive a lot of opportunities in the sporting world, Ralph noted.
Some of the athletes competing for Labrador have the opportunity to medal in the province’s greatest winter sporting event.
“They’re good, athletic kids,” said Ralph.
But, it’s not just about the medals for these athletes.
“They’ll make friends in Newfoundland they’ll know for the rest of their lives,” said Ralph.
The Innu have a long history with the sport of wrestling. It is included in the Aboriginal Indigenous Games and American explorer Robert Peary documented wrestling on the coast of Labrador in 1909.
“They would use aggression to solve disputes,” said Ralph.
Now, more than 100 years later, the sport is still practiced along the coast.
“This is a sport that has been in the native community for 20,000 years in Canada,” said Ralph.
With this in their background, it should be no surprise these athletes are exhibiting the same traits found in their ancestors.
“Wrestling is the perfect sport for a small town,” said Ralph.
A showcase of talent
Ralph is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Amateur Wrestling Association and the coach of the provincial aboriginal wrestling team.
He said there’s a possibility Labrador wrestlers may get to perform at a higher level later this year.
Ralph noted aboriginal wrestlers are eligible to compete at the 2014 Aboriginal Indigenous Games in Regina, Saskatchewan, scheduled for July 20-27.
“I’m going to be able to take some of these kids to that event,” said Ralph.
History in CBN
Ralph has a winning history with schools and wreslting in the Trinity-Conception region.
It began as a teacher in Heart’s Content in 1996 at Holy Trinity Regional High School. There, he started fostering a wrestling program.
“Wrestling was just getting big there,” Ralph said.
Next, he moved on to Carbonear Collegiate for the next decade, from 1999-2010, beginning a wrestling program there.
At its height, Ralph had 80 wrestlers in a school of 400. He said he enjoyed his time at Carbonear Collegiate and during that time the team collected numerous provincial championships.
Since his departure, the program has declined significantly to the point where there is no wrestling at the school.
“The only regret I have is that I didn’t have anyone with me when I left and the program died,” said Ralph. “Two years after I left it was non-existent.
“It just breaks your heart when you had so much success.”
Before taking his current position as principal of the Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Centre in Whitbourne, Ralph had hopes of returning to Carbonear and reviving the wrestling program.
Ralph knows these Games will be special.
“I’ll remember these kids for the rest of my life,” he said.
Members of the Labrador wrestling team are: Dana Penunsi, Joshua Dyke, John Baptiste, Meeka Qupee, Mishkushish Pinette and Shuashem Dyke.