The pressure was on Landon Weitzel, 7, as he kneeled at the edge of a wrestling mat at the Spokane Arena, which was crowded with spectators.
Wearing his yellow leotard and matching headgear, the Richland boy was ready to compete. His arm was marked with his age and weight, 72.4 pounds, and his mind was racked with memorized moves like the half nelson.
The referee blew his whistle and Weitzel locked arms with the other boy. They grappled and shifted.
“Stay low!” shouted his coach, Dave Mills, as Weitzel’s opponent moved on top of him. “You gotta stand up!”
But Weitzel found himself pinned. The match ended and he sulked off, with Mills’ arm around his shoulder, consoling him.
Weitzel was one of 1,667 kids who competed in the Jason Crawford Memorial Tournament on Saturday at the Arena. The competitors were accompanied by roughly 6,000 parents, family and coaches from three states and 97 teams.
Wayne Terry, president of the Washington Little Guys Wrestling League that hosts the tournament, said it continues to grow in size, providing a way for young wrestlers to build skills and confidence before entering high school wrestling programs.
“This is getting them to know what it feels like being at a big venue,” he said. “So when they go to the state tournaments in Tacoma they don’t choke.”
The Jason Crawford Memorial Tournament, named after a 12-year-old wrestler who died after being hit by a car in 1998, is the culmination of smaller wrestling tournaments throughout the year for children in kindergarten through sixth grade, Terry said.
Last year’s tournament had the Guinness Book of World Records observe it for the largest Little Guys Wrestling Tournament in the world. Representatives had clickers to count the number of people and their own booth to watch the matches. Terry is still waiting to hear back from Guinness World Records to confirm if they hold the record.
Dave Mills, one of Weitzel’s coaches, said that wrestling teaches kids dedication, hard work and self-esteem. Mills also has a son competing in the tournament on Weitzel’s team, Reactors, with yellow gear that’s named for the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Richland.
Regardless of the loss in his match Saturday, Weitzel was determined to keep at it.
“I think I might do it again,” he said.
Dennis Crawford, father of the tournament’s namesake, Jason, flies to Spokane every year from Georgia to give the opening speech for the tournament and see how it has grown.
“Wrestling is so closely related to life,” he said. “It’s one-on-one, you’re responsible for your failure and you get out of it what you put into it.”
“They say something good comes from something bad,” Crawford said, “and that has happened here.”
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