Watermelon Wresting Festival returns with higher participation than ever
Tim Brody - Editor
Fifty-three participants took part in this year’s Watermelon Wrestling Festival at Sioux North High School (SNHS) on April 20.
The wrestling festival was the wrap up for the Warrior Wrestling Club, which saw approximately 60 grade 4-8 students learn the sport of wrestling over multiple weeks, starting at the end of March.
Put on the Sioux North High School wrestling program, high school wrestlers took on the role of coaches and mentors to the younger wrestlers.
“It was awesome. I’m so proud of the high school coaches and mentors. Every day they’ve been out donating their time, could not have done this without them,” said SNHS wrestling coach Rob Sakamoto. “Thank you to Todd at Fresh Market because he donated all of the melons for the kids. He does it every year. Nodin and Fair Convenience also donated the prizes, which is awesome. I have to thank my administration for supporting me. They gave me practice times and everything,” Sakamoto added.
SNHS wrestling coaches/mentors included: Mihtig Donnelly, Cassius Angeconeb, Kim Achneepinskum, Omi Sakamoto, Carlos Mattinas, Evan Burch, John Burke, Ricky Quedent,
Cassius Talifur, Nikita Lyon, and Jerry Moquano.
“I firmly believe in paying it forward. So, these guys are paying it forward in spades,” Sakamoto said, thanking his wrestlers.
Levi Melnichuk, a former member of the SNHS wrestling program who has since graduated and is working in the community, played an integral role in running the program.
“For me to get involved, it’s just really great to give back to the community and give my knowledge to the younger wrestlers and then also being able to let the high school kids get the opportunity for leadership and role model example. It’s also just a great opportunity for all the kids to get that transitioning from elementary to that high school experience. It’s just a great experience for everyone all around,” he said.
Elementary wrestlers in the program said they had a great time.
Sunny Sakamoto, 11, a Sacred Heart School (SHS) student, said of taking part in the wrestling festival, “I like learning new skills. It’s fun.”
Anna Culham, 9, a Sioux Mountain Public School (SMPS) student, said this was her first-time giving wrestling a try.
She said it was tricky, but said she enjoyed the challenge and had a lot of fun.
Malcom Laverty, 9, a SHS student, also was new to the sport of wrestling.
He said of his time in the program, “It was very great. One of my favourite sports. It’s a combat sport and you win even if you lose.”
McKean Tinney, 10, a SMPS student, said he also enjoyed taking part in the wrestling club.
Ethan McCord, 14, a SHS, had taken part in the wrestling club before the COVID pandemic.
He said it was great to return to the sport, “I really enjoy wrestling. I just like the physicalness and the fun, and also before I won in a tournament, so I felt I would do well again.’
Biidabin Achneepineskum, 14, a SMPS student, said he had never wrestled before, but enjoyed the experience.
Gracie Collin, 12, a SMPS student, said, “It was very fun, but it was also really tough.” She said she enjoyed the challenge.
Ava Whiskeyjack, 14, a SMPS student, said she had also taken part in the wrestling club prior to the COVID pandemic.
She said she enjoys the sport, which she said comes naturally to her.
“The Warrior Wrestling Club’s goal is to develop leadership and mentorship skills for High school coaches, and to provide a healthy afterschool activity for participants. Wrestling is a sport that fosters resiliency, sportsmanship, as well as inclusivity,” Sakamoto said.
The Warrior Wrestling Club had run annually for about five years prior to the COVID pandemic. Sakamoto said the number of elementary students who took part in the program this year doubled from when the program was last held. He admitted he was pleasantly surprised at the sport’s popularity among the elementary students.
“My dad always told me sports are just a vehicle for character development and that’s my philosophy, it’s not so much about the wrestling, wrestling is there, but through wrestling kids can develop resiliency, and morals, and values and character and all those types of things and that’s the end goal,” he said.
He further shared, “My dad, back in the day, he used to do a grapefruit wrestling tournament. We wanted to make it not stressful, not super competitive, so instead of saying tournament, it’s a festival. When I lived in Japan, they had athletic festivals all the time and watermelons are healthy and I thought all kids like watermelon, so I thought it would be nice to give every kid a watermelon. My personal belief and I think the coaches, is that it takes courage just to step on the mat, so I think every kid that steps on the mat is a winner.”