Summer competition helps wrestlers prepare for the winter season at Foxcroft Academy camp

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DOVER-FOXCROFT — For the 16th consecutive summer wrestlers in grades 5-12 from across Maine came to town to learn new techniques and skills they can use during the upcoming scholastic season at the Foxcroft Academy Competition Camp held June 27-30.

“We have 39 kids at wrestling camp this year,” said camp coordinator and Foxcroft Academy and SeDoMoCha Middle School/Foxcroft Youth Wrestling head coach Luis Ayala. “There’s a lot of local kids,” he said, with about half of this year’s campers staying overnight in the school dorms.

“We are very fortunate to use the Academy,” Ayala said.

“It’s great to see kids from everywhere,” he said. The 2017 camp included several female wrestlers. Ayala said schools outside the region represented include Belfast, Erskine Academy of South China, Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln, Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield, Medomak Valley of Waldoboro, Mount View of Thorndike, Monmouth Academy and Washington Academy of East Machias.

Ayala said some attendees have been coming to the camp for a number of years. “We have had some fifth-graders who are going to be 12th-graders,” he said. “It’s our 16th year and I enjoy doing it.”

The Foxcroft Academy Competition Camp features guest clinicians and for the second year in a row two of the instructors were University of Southern Maine (USM) head wrestling coach Mike Morin and assistant coach Jonathan Deupree.

Joining the pair was recent USM graduate Dan Del Gallo. During the 2016-17 collegiate season Del Gallo, who was a three-time Class B champion at Gardiner Area High School, became the first Husky wrestler to win a national championship as he captured the NCAA Division III title at 149 pounds. In the process Del Gallo became the program’s career victories leader, surpassing the 133 wins his head coach had tallied when he wrestled for USM. This past season Del Gallo also earned First Team Academic All-American honors to accompany his success on the mat.

“I got up to town this morning so I am spending two days at camp,” Morin said after the conclusion of the morning session on June 29. He said Del Gallo’s first visit to Dover-Foxcroft would span the first two and a half days of the Foxcroft Academy Competition Camp, and Deupree would be working with the grapplers all four days.

“We are going over basic fundamentals and working every day with a series of body awareness exercises,” Morin said. “We are focusing on the basics, what works from youth to college,” he said, such as techniques for hand fighting and starting on top and on bottom.

The USM head coach said the campers have been working hard and learning, and have also been enjoying themselves. “We have games to try to keep these kids having fun,” Morin said.

“It really is focusing on the fundamentals,” Del Gallo said. “Nothing too fancy, just stuff you work on at all levels.”

Del Gallo said he has worked at wrestling camps previously and he enjoys the experience. “It’s fun, I like seeing when a kid figures out a move and it finally kicks in — it’s exciting.”

Ayala said the Foxcroft Academy Competition Camp has a two-year cycle of guest clinicians for participants to learn from a variety of instructors. “Because these guys are from college they are wrestling at a different level,” he said.

Describing Del Gallo as humble despite all his success, Ayala said the NCAA champion’s words resonated with the young wrestlers. Ayala said Del Gallo told the camp attendees how he worked hard on and off the mat.

“Here is a guy from Maine who won a national championship, it can be done,” Ayala said. “He’s proud to tell kids where he’s from and let them know that he lost matches along the way and senior year he put it all together.”

“Our wrestling camp has evolved, we put a team aspect into wrestling because it can be a bit tiring just drilling,” Ayala said. He said the participants were divided into four teams with the squads competing in various competitions, including games such as dodgeball, to accumulate points over the four days to determine various team and individual winners.

“We do head-to-head duals so everything matters,” Ayala said. He said at the end of camp medals will be awarded to the winners and there is also an MVP of the camp.

“That aspect is where our wrestling camp has evolved so it is different than other camps,” he said. “The kids learn a lot and I learn a lot as a coach.’

Ayala said this year the Foxcroft Academy Competition Camp was moved to late June to avoid a conflict with the Fourth of July. He said the change in schedule works out well as the attendees have the opportunity to compete in a summer tournament at the University of Maine on Saturday, July 1 — in previous years the campers have wrestled each other at their own tourney.

Ayala said the event in Orono will provide more competition and a chance for the Foxcroft Academy Competition Camp grapplers to try some of their newly-acquired knowledge.

The Thursday afternoon session began with a series of dodgeball games with the four teams competing against each other to earn points toward the accumulating standings. Morin and Deupree joined in as Ayala monitored the action on the mats spread across the gym floor.

Following some warm-up exercises the two USM coaches had the wrestlers go through what Morin called “the knee tap drill.” Paired off against peers of similar stature the aim was to make contact with the opponent’s knee. Doing so earned a point and whichever wrestler ended up falling short in the competition would have to do some push-ups while the winner earned themselves a series of jumping jacks.

After the knee tap drill the campers were faced with toe touches. “The loser you have got 10 push-ups, the winner you have 10 jumping jacks,” Morin said as the wrestlers tried to reach further and get ahold of the other’s shoe.

After several 25-second sessions of hand fighting, Morin and Deupree had the 39 campers gather around them for a demonstration on front headlocks. The two coaches explained the proper position for elbows with this move and then the younger wrestlers practiced the techniques while Morin, Deupree and Ayala walking around the mats to point out when the methods were executed correctly and and if an adjustment was needed.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
WRESTLING IN THE SUMMER TO IMPROVE FOR THE WINTER SEASON — University of Southern Maine assistant wrestling coach Jonathan Deupree demonstrates a front headlock on head coach Mike Morin June 29 during the 16th annual Foxcroft Academy Competition Camp. The two Husky coaches along with recent graduate and 2017 NCAA Division III 149-pound champion Dan Del Gallo served as the guest clinicians for the 39 boys and girls from across Maine in grades 5-12 attending the four-day camp.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
FROM COLLEGE TO HIGH SCHOOL AND YOUTH RANKS — University of Southern Maine head wrestling coach Mike Morin looks on as two grapplers work on their technique during last week’s 16th annual Foxcroft Academy Competition Camp. Attendees had the opportunity to learn collegiate level lessons which they can then use during the upcoming high school and middle school seasons.

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