Some 120 youth wrestlers, ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade, participated in the Feb. 11 Mountain Mayhem Wrestling Tournament at Yosemite High School.
The group represented about a dozen schools and clubs, with the tiniest wrestler weighing 37 pounds while a couple ‘big boy’ competitors tipped the scale at 250.
The top three finishers in each weight class received medals, and the first place wrestler also received a commemorative Mountain Mayhem T-shirt.
About 12 girls were in the mix, but one stood out - well-mannered, soft-spoken 13 year-old Cristelle Rodriguez, a member of the Red Wave Wrestling Club of Fresno, coached by Damani Buckley.
She wrestled three boys in her weight class Saturday, and as expected by those who know her, pinned all three of them to take first place in the 95-pound weight class.
Rodriguez wrestlers for Coach Chris Hansen at Alta Sierra Junior High in Clovis, and wrestles year-round for the club team that her mom and dad, Jerri and Saul Rodriguez, help coach. Her win-loss record over the past year is 72-8, and most youth wrestlers in the Central Valley know her.
“The ones that know me are usually scared to wrestle me and the ones that don’t know me are usually surprised after I beat them,” Rodriguez said with a big grin.
During the season she practices two hours a day, Monday through Friday, and spends many weekends at tournaments.
“I’m dedicated to the sport and I practice hard - the reward is when I get to show off my skills in a tournament,” Rodriguez said.
The ‘B’ student has set some lofty goals for herself. She plans on wrestling on the girls team at Buchanan High School, and dreams of wrestling after high school for either Idaho State, Oklahoma State or King University in Bristol, Tn., a team that just won its fourth straight Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association National Championship. Southern Oregon University has already talked to the family about her future in college. The ultimate goal - making the USA Olympic Team and competing in the 2024 Olympics when she is 20.
Her little brothers also participated in the tournament - 4-year-old Brody placed third in the 38-pound division and 10-year-old Jairus placed first in the 64-pound division.
“I love wrestling because it keeps these youngsters busy and active and teaches them a lot of life lessons,” Jerri Rodriguez said. “As they get stronger and lean wrestling skills, it builds confidence in them. It’s not easy, but they also learn to be good sports when they lose and they learn to be humble when they win. Unlike a team sport, they learn there is no one to blame when they lose but themselves. They all compete, but when the tournament is over they are all good friends.”
Another elite wrestler in the tournament was Jake Prudek, a 13-year-old, 115 pound eighth grader at Caruthers Elementary School. Prudek, who is also a running back and linebacker on the Caruthers Blue Raider youth football team that went 8-1 this past season, placed first in his weight class at a state tournament two years ago.
He wrestlers for Club Dethron in Caruthers and won his two matches by pins Saturday.
“Wrestling is really fun and I like that it’s a individual sport,” Prudek said. “Win or lose, it’s up to me and not a team.”
Jayden Henson, a 10-year-old fourth grader at Oakhurst Elementary School, wrestled in two weight classes Saturday (60 and 65 pound) and left the gym with two gold medals after going 5-0 with two pins to his credit.
Steve Burrola of Fresno was one of five referees who worked five hours to officiate matches and is a big supporter of youth wrestling. He’s been officiating high school and college wrestling matches for 12 years and it was his fifth year to work the Mountain Mayhem tournament. The 1991 graduate of Selma High School knows his wrestling, having been in three high school state tournaments, winning the CIF D-III 135-pound state title his senior year.
“We come up here for the kids,” Burrola said. “The Central Valley is known for the high quality of wrestlers in the area and there are a lot of talented wrestlers here today. It’s great to see the smiles on the faces of these kids when they win, and we make sure we tell the wrestlers they did a good job even if they lose. All these young wrestlers are extremely motivated and they inspire me.”
The tournament is hosted by the Yosemite Badgers Youth Wrestling team, which is made up of 32 wrestlers this year, five who will wrestle for Yosemite High next year.
The participating teams at Mountain Mayhem include Golden Grapplers of Mariposa, Sierra Foothill of Auberry/Tollhouse, Team Selma, Washington Union of Easton, Champ Wrestling of Clovis, Big Creek, Creek, Pine Ridge, Red Wave of Fresno, Caruthers, Dark Horse of Clovis, Dethrone of Fresno, and the host team, Yosemite Badger Youth Wrestling.
The tournament raised about $3,000 for the YHS wrestling program.