Tenth grader Maya Barber and eleventh grader Elijah Lachman practice during Germantown Friends School Wrestling Camp.

Wrestling is often described as a sport that tests both mental and physical toughness, demanding focus and determination on top of fitness and ability. This summer, dedicated and hardworking kids from second through eleventh grade are experiencing the challenge and pride of the sport during Germantown Friends School (GFS) Wrestling Camp.

In the basement of Smith Gym, a historic building with character that may remind some of underground gyms in Rocky movies, campers learn new wrestling moves from their coach and guest athletes from all over the world. In its ninth year, this coed camp not only allows kids to master wrestling techniques and new moves, but also encourages values of integrity, respect, and hard work through fitness and friendship.

“I love that kids can let their summer energy out in a safe space, test and push themselves, and have a lot of fun,” said Paul Hammond, Wrestling Camp director and GFS varsity wrestling coach.

Hammond wrestled when he was a student, both in high school and at Kent State University, so he enjoys sharing this special sport that has taught him so much about dedication and focus with the campers.

Wrestling can teach kids many important lessons that are relevant beyond the gym. They practice patience and time-management because you need to know when to wait and when to take action to be most effective. Kids learn about integrity by working as a team and treating opponents with fairness and kindness. They also learn about the importance of respecting their peers, their own bodies and wellness, and the sport and technique. While their goal is to pin their challenger, they must use safe and careful movements that don’t hurt themselves or others.

Campers are exposed to talented wrestlers with unique skills and stories, including Kazem Gholami, an Iranian Olympic wrestler. Gholami is known for using his celebrity to protest against the Iranian government’s regular social injustice. Gholami, who helped launch the GFS wrestling camp nine years ago, visited this summer and taught the kids the single leg takedown, how to create angles, and the importance of timing. He also stressed that hard work and dedication can set you apart from the rest in wrestling, advocacy, school, or future careers.

Students also had the opportunity to learn from Nick Kilstein, a former Division 1 American University wrestler and current MMA athlete known for his technique and craft; Anthony White, a former wrestler for Clarion University (undergrad) and Millersville University (graduate school) who was recognized by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association; and Jared Lazorko, a GFS alumnus and current wrestling coach.

Tristan Labor, a camper and rising second grader, said, “I like camp because I get to have fun, learn about wrestling, and try new things.”

“Our wrestling camp is a unique, active experience for kids to sharpen their competitive edge, practice focus and drive, and make friends,” said Katie Bergstrom Mark, director of athletics at GFS. “It was the first of its kind in the city and the program has grown immensely over the past nine years, offering campers access to former world and national caliber coaches and athletes, in addition to wrestlers from local universities. I am thrilled to see Coach Hammond put his own unique twist on the program and make this physically and mentally challenging sport a ton of fun.”

Young wrestlers also have the opportunity to continue to hone their craft and strengthen their minds and bodies with the USA Wrestling affiliated Germantown Grapplers Wrestling Club, also led by Coaches Hammond and Lazorko, which meets weekly from November to June and is open to beginners. Contact phammond@germantownfriends.org for more