After COVID shutdown, wrestlers flock to Santiam camp

Dozens of wrestlers covered mats on the floor of the Sweet Home High School Sweet Home hosted its annual Santiam Wrestling Camp for boys July 10-13, after a hiatus last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The camp attracted nearly 100 wrestlers from all over the state, which was less than it has had in the past, but was still affirming for Sweet Home Coach Steve Thorpe.

“I thought it was a very successful camp, especially since we haven’t had one since 2019,” he said. “This is one of the first coming off of COVID. I know people sure are grateful.”

The camp included 35 of Oregon’s national team members, who are competing this week at nationals in Fargo, N.D.

Competing in Fargo is Jesse Jamison in the Juniors division and Ryker Hartsook and Kyle Sieminski in 16 and Under for the boys. Kami Hart and Paige Chafin are competing at the girls nationals, both in the Junior division.

“In the past few years we’ve had all of the national team, but because of COVID and planning, we couldn’t require that national team (participation) be mandatory.”

He said that normally the camp is much more heavily publicized than it was this year, with brochures at the state tournament and other outreach, whereas this year it was pretty much some Facebook posts and emails.

Oregon State University Head Coach Chris Pendleton was one of the instructors, as was Southern Oregon Coach Joel Gibson, both of whom worked with the national team members.

Also present was Travis Whitlake, a four-time state champion from Marshfield who participated in the camp as a youngster and who is a two-time NCAA Div. I All-American after a fourth-place national finish for Oklahoma State this year as a sophomore.

“It was good to have a Division I coach,” Thorpe said. “This camp has grown and become something very special. It attracts everyone from elite wrestlers to those who are new to the sport. It’s just so refreshing that coaches come and bring wrestlers, national team coaches, who check their egos at the door. They just want to give back to the sport. That’s what this is about.”

Participants included the Tillamook team, which has been part of the camp since the beginning, he said.

Thorpe said the camp’s success is also the result of support from the community.

“To have the administration, custodial stuff, cafeteria staff we have – these people come together to make things happen,” he said. “It was very important to have a successful camp after COVID.

“Coaches in our state have a saying: ‘Summer time wrestlers make winter time champions.'”