Preparation starts early for Santiam camp wrestlers

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

Adam Abel may have been a foreigner, but you wouldn’t have known it as he rolled around on the mats with other campers at the Santiam Wrestling Camp.

Abel, 16, was one of eight boys from Saskatoon, Saskachewan, Canada who attended the four-day camp at Sweet Home High School along with approximately 200 other young wrestlers.

“I thought the wrestling camp was huge once again,” said Sweet Home wrestling coach Steve Thorpe, who has directed the camp for the last three years. Previous to that, Thorpe directed the Oregon National Camp for three years, before it moved to the University of Oregon.

The camp was the largest ever this year, Thorpe said, attracting wrestlers and coaches from more than 30 schools around the state.

Abel, who wrestles for Bedford Road Collegiate high school in Saskatoon, is a two-time provincial champion and placed fifth in the Canadian nationals as a freshman and fourth this year as a sophomore at 63 kilograms (139 pounds).

He said the local camp provided him with “good competition and great coaches.”

“We don’t have camps like this in Canada, where we live together,” he said. “We stay at home or in a hotel.”

Camp participants slept on the wrestling mats in the two gymnasium, ate in the high school cafeteria and circulated around town during their free time.

“I want to thank the community for putting up with 200 teenage boys for a week,” Thorpe said, adding that he’s particularly appreciative of the custodial and cafeteria staff at the high school for “going over and beyond what’s necessary to make it nice for the kids.”

Wrestlers awoke before 7 a.m. and went for a run, then had breakfast (eggs, french toast, biscuits and gravy), then had a 3 1/2-hour wrestling instruction and scrimmage session. Following lunch, they had games and competitions that pitted teams of campers against each other in events such as dodge ball, obstacle courses and tug of war, and finished the day off with dinner and a 2 1/2-hour evening session.

“This is a good training camp before the Nationals camp,” said Marty Eng, 19, of Newberg High School, a three-time Oregon state champion and national Greco champion who plans to compete for Oregon State University in the fall. He said he planned to attend the Oregon National Camp at UO this week in preparation for the five-day Junior Nationals tournament which starts July 25 in Fargo, N.D.

“If you go to the Nationals without training, you won’t make it. It’s so hard.”

Eng said he used to train solo at his school with his coach, but “we decided to bring it all together and wrestle here.”

Luke Cleaver, coach at Nyssa High School, said this is the third year he’s been at the Santiam camp.

“It’s a good camp,” he said. “The kids are treated in the best manner and they get high-quality coaching from the best coaches in the state.”

Thorpe said the coaching is one of the camp’s strong features. The camp is staffed by 14 coaches from various state high schools, including Tim Boatright, Louis Dix, Steve Hummer, Steve Schilling and Eric Tagle of Sweet Home.

The camp and its format were the brainstorm of Thorpe and his former OSU teammate, Neil Russo of Newberg. With help from two other fellow Beavers, Mike Simons of Thurston and Steve Lander of Roseburg, they put the camp together.

“I believe the kids have fun, but at the same time they learned,” Thorpe said. “None of the coaching, the people working at the camp, have a huge ego,” he said. “It’s not just about your own team. It’s about helping the state of wrestling in Oregon.”

Thorpe said that, with 200 participants, this year the camp has become the biggest in the state of Oregon .

“We wanted to keep it at 175 or below, but I have a heck of a time saying no,” he said. “I had to turn away about 25 to 30 people. I hated doing that, but this isn’t about seeing how many we can fit in. It’s about teaching them wrestling.”