Kinzua Wrestling Club off and Running with Open House

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Kaelon Connolly (bottom) and Sky Kophazy go through a drill during Friday's Kinzua Wrestling Club Open House.

WARREN, Pa. – The goal of the Kinzua Wrestling Club is simple – to promote wrestling and increase the opportunity for wrestlers in Warren County and beyond.

The newly-formed club is housed in the Market St. Plaza next to Dollar General (a 5,000 square feet area), and was the brainchild of a number of local coaches, boosters and those in the area who have long been a part of the wrestling community.

The club held an Open House on Friday, which was very well attended.

“When you ask other people on the committee, everybody tells you something different,” said Club CEO Adam Miller on how the club came about. “The thing is, the numbers in this area have slowly been going down and COVID magnified that. It showed that there was more of a weakness than people thought.”

Another impetus behind the club is to keep local wrestlers close to home, as opposed to traveling multiple hours in some cases.

“Our best wrestlers are driving hours,” Miller said. “Three, four, five days a week they’re going to State College, St. Marys, Erie, Pittsburgh to go to private clubs. We have enough people in this area who were great high school wrestlers, really good college wrestlers.

“We’re hoping this club gives us a chance to have a lot of kids practice together because that’s become a real issue when you don’t have enough kids. Some kid comes in, he’s seven and weighs 60 pounds and the next closest kid is nine and 100 pounds. That doesn’t help anybody. We need to have a place where all of these guys can come in.”

The club is a registered LLC and is sanctioned by USA Wrestling, the nation’s national governing body for wrestling.

One of the many local wrestling dignitaries in attendance was longtime high school coach Tony Ross.

“This facility is beautiful,” he said. “I hope all the schools in the county that still have wrestling, and I think they all do, will take advantage of this. When I was coaching, I wish we had a place like this. I know the coaches have high aspirations for this place to become popular.”

The advisory board for the club consists of Miller, Barry Johnson (former Kane coach), Dr. Dennis Johnson (Eisenhower assistant coach), Nick Pennucci (Student Wrestling Representative), Tobias Williams (Sheffield youth coach), Keith Kophazy (Club Building Manager), and Joe Letko Jr (Warren youth coach and club CFO).

“The response has been really positive,” Johnson said. “We’ve had some people that have talked about maybe helping out financially. As you can see, we’re not even having an organized workout and the interest level is really, really there.”

Wrestlers get loose on the Kinzua Wrestling Club mats.

Johnson also talked about the possibility of starting a ‘Wresters in Business’ chapter. Wrestlers in Business is a national, non-profit networking group for everyone that is passionate about wrestling, dedicated to advancing careers, businesses, personal growth, and the sport.

“Once we get this thing going, we’re hoping to get college wrestlers in here to do an internship where they can come in here and do their thing,” Johnson said. “That’s another vehicle to look towards.”

The club will be available from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. A Coach/adult supervision with documented clearance will be on hand for any and all workouts and events, and each use of the facility must be documented on the KWC wrestling calendar. Multiple groups can utilize the facility at the same time, provided space is available.

“We haven’t even been full-blown open and we’ve got some Eisenhower kids and coaches, some Youngsville coaches, Sheffield coaches and kids from the other schools showing up,” Miller said. “We need our own club so our best kids don’t have to drive three hours round trip.”

For Johnson, a club like this has been a long time coming.

“I’ve been around 40 years and this has always been a dream, to have a place like this for all the county kids,” Johnson said.

Added Miller: “Just in the past week, we’ve had people reach out asking can kids from Bradford and Olean come. Absolutely. My background is Kane. I’ve already texted eight guys from Kane. Those Kane kids are driving to St. Marys for their closest club. They’ll be able to drive both ways now.”

Miller also stressed that the goal of the KWC is not to take away from other wrestling clubs.

“We don’t want to cannibalize any other program,” he said. “This is completely about increasing numbers, increasing the skill set, making the kids more competitive. I still think it’s important for kids to go to ‘Ragin Raisins’ in Erie or ‘Titans’ in St. Marys. Every coach teaches something a little bit differently. It only benefits them to see this from as many different coaches as they can.”

Phase one of the project has been the formation of the club with a committee with members from different schools. Under the USA Wrestling designation, coaches will have background check clearances, as well passing training in the latest wrestling coaching practices, such as proper nutrition and hydration and age-appropriate training techniques.

Up next is phase two, where the club will begin offering practices to any wrestlers who would like to attend for $1 per session.

“It’s a really exciting time,” Miller said.

A couple of the club’s upcoming events are listed below.

More information can also be found on the KWC Facebook Page

Kinzua Wrestling Club presents: Ken Chertow Clinic
Former Olympian and Penn State standout, Kenny Chertow will be making his first appearance in Warren since 1992 for an afternoon clinic on Monday, July 26th from 12-4 PM. The cost is $35 per individual (family rates available). This will serve as the debut event in the center for athlete access and participation.

Dean Johnson Memorial Wrestling Tournament
Although not a Kinzua Wrestling Club event, wrestlers are encouraged to sign up and participate in the outdoor tournament at Betts Park in Warren PA on Saturday, July 31. Registration fee is $35 and online registration is available at www.pywrestling.com.