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The second Johnston County Wrestling Camp, put on by the Neuse Charter School wrestling program, was held July 8-11 at the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center.
Neuse Charter wrestling coach Chase Crocker said the camp was a success after drawing participants of a variety of ages and from schools across Johnston County.
“My goal was to grow wrestling of all ages,” Crocker said Thursday.
Crocker, who grew up a “baseball guy” said he was deeply impacted by learning how to wrestle and started the camp to give others a chance to be introduced to it.
“It’s just a sport that when you actually get exposed to it and understand it, it’s beautiful,” Crocker said. “That’s all I can say to describe it. Wrestling changed my life, so I hope it can change other people’s lives.”
The four-day camp, which had 40 campers this year, introduced kids as young as 6 to the sport, while also leaving room for high school wrestlers to hone their skills for the upcoming season next winter.
Initially, Crocker said he planned for the camp to be aimed at older wrestlers only, with the youngest wrestlers who could attend at least 11 years old.
“My initial goal was to make this a more intensive camp,” Crocker said. “I wanted my high school guys to get some good stuff from some good people, different people.”
Crocker said he changed his mind when parents of younger children started reaching out on Facebook with interest in signing up. He realized the camp appealed to a wider demographic than previously though, and opened it up to anyone who wanted to attend because it spread the sport to more people.
On top of instructing younger wrestlers, Crocker said the camp was also an opportunity to welcome back past wrestlers in his program who come back to help him put on the camp.
“It’s just that brotherhood, too,” Crocker said of his Cougar program. “It’s just that family bonding, coming back, even years after, and helping.”
As part of the camp, guests came in two of the four days to supplement the instruction given by his Neuse Charter coaching staff and former wrestlers.
On Wednesday, campers were instructed by former N.C. State University wrestler Rick Brownlee, whose brother also participated in the camp.
The following day, former Wolfpack wrestling coach Bob Guzzo, who retired in 2004 after a 30-year career as head coach in Raleigh, joined the campers and gave them pointers from the perspective of a long-time wrestling coach.
Each day, Crocker said he and the staff stressed teaching the participants to find something they love to motivate them to stay out of trouble and work toward goals, whether it be wrestling or any other activity.
After growing since the inaugural camp in 2018, the four-day camp split off at certain points to keep younger wrestlers from being scared away from the sport by more advanced matches.
For Crocker, the best part of the week was “pouring into the kids” and growing he sport in the area. He expects in the future, the camp will be aided by the success of this year.
“I think it’s going to keep growing bigger and bigger,” Crocker said.