During the B.C. High School Wrestling Championships in mid-Februrary, the floor of the Langley Events Centre was covered in mats.
Young wrestlers of all ages were locked in matches with others in their weight class, each determined to make it to the top of the provincials. Some wore guards to protect them from the all too common “cauliflower ear”; all were dressed in the sleek knee-length singlets.
All, that is, except one.
“In provincials, it’s pretty much required that you wear a singlet, but somehow (coach Jim Mitchell) managed that I didn’t have to,” Mark Schwichtenberg, 14, said.
The AESS student wore a speedo to his first provincials — after only five months into the sport, he didn’t have the gear yet. But that didn’t stop him from winning his first match of the provincials 15-13.
(Schwichtenberg went on to lose his next two matches, putting him in the top 15 for the province.)
“I’ll wrestle kids, and they’ll be better than me,” Schwichtenberg said. “But they’ve been doing it for four years. So then when I defend and do a good move against them, it’s a good feeling.
“I realize, hey, this is something I could do and be good at.”
It already is something Schwichtenberg is good at.
The Grade 9 student has been playing hockey since he was four and swimming at Ferny Coombe pool for at least seven years, but only started wrestling at the advice of his swim coach in the fall.
“He talked to my mom, who wasn’t the most keen on it,” Schwichtenberg remembered. “She’s heard about ringworm and staph infection and cauliflower (ear).
“But then he talked to me about it, and I was very keen.”
There’s no wrestling program at AESS — Schwichtenberg is the only one wrestling for the school — so he began training with the team at Mouat Secondary in Abbotsford.
Not long after, he started winning.
In the Upper Fraser Valley zone championships at the beginning of February, Schwichtenberg got bronze in his 70kg weight class. One of his coaches, Gurveer Talhan, was surprised.
“Shorts, no gear, coming in with no experience and being able to do that,” Talhan said. “Just imagine (what he’ll be like) with the skill work.”
Normally, Talhan wouldn’t have a beginner like Schwichtenberg heading out to tournaments right away.
“In this case, he wanted to compete,” Talhan said. “Some athletes … respond better knowing what’s expected. So we took that chance with him and gave him the opportunity to compete.
“I think that kind of got the fire going for him.”
That fire has taken Schwichtenberg through his first three tournaments, seeing him pitted against wrestlers in Grade 12 who have been practicing for longer than he had been in high school.
“I’m doing really well against kids that have been doing this three times as long as I have,” Schwichtenberg said.
“They have three years on me and, like, six inches.”
Schwichtenberg’s success comes, not from technical prowess, but rather his background in other sports.
“He has that competitive and mental side, and that’s hard to find in kids nowadays,” Talhan said. “I guess it comes from his background and discipline on the farm.”
Schwichtenberg’s father, dairy farmer Holger Schwichtenberg, agreed.
“It caught us a bit by surprise,” he said about his son’s success.
“I’ve never done (wrestling), but apparently it’s exhausting. And at some point, some kids just give up,” he added.
“He’s fearless and he’s got stamina and he’s certainly not afraid.”
Schwichtenberg is proud of his accomplishments, and rightly so. But listening to his parents and coaches is a reminder that he still has a long way to go before he can make it to the top of the high school championships.
“He is completely and totally lacking any kind of technique,” his father said.
During the second match of the provincial championships, Schwichtenberg was pitted against an athlete who had a much stronger foundation in technique than he did.
“Mark just didn’t know what was happening,” his father said. “The guy was doing holds and making moves, and Mark didn’t even have time to process.”
That match ended 0-10.
But, according to Talhan, there’s no knowing where Schwichtenberg could go if he improves his technique.
“Wrestling is a sport where there’s a lot of skill work,” Talhan said. “He’s done well for his first year without any background in wrestling, right.
“So with that, if he sticks with the sport and learns a lot of the skill work and builds a nice foundation of wrestling, we don’t know where he could go.”
It certainly seems like that is Schwichtenberg’s plan.
“I’ve done better in this sport after six months than I’ve done in my other sports, which I’ve been at for at least four years,” he said.
“It’s a really good feeling, and I want to do well and see where it can go.”
His dad agreed.
Right now, “he’s catching other people by surprise. Who is this kid?
“He will not be doing that in the future,” he said. “They will recognize there’s this new kid on the block, and they be a little more prepared.
“But also (his coaches) have to prepare him as well, especially as he gets to Grade 11 and 12,” he added. “Then he’ll be the tough guy beating up on the Grade 9 squirt.”