Third grade is an exciting year for most kids. Many celebrate learning to read and write, preparing for middle school and other "big-kid" accomplishments.
For Laingsburg's Kameron Stuckey, 9, third grade is also when he took second place in the state at the youth wrestling finals in Kalamazoo at the end of March.
At the beginning of the season, Stuckey knew he had one goal in mind: to win at states. His coach Matthew McDougall-Smith, who was with him every step of the way, worried he might be upset after falling just short of winning — but Stuckey is very OK with second, and pleased with his effort and accomplishment.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just took second at states,” Stuckey said to McDougall-Smith as they walked away from the mat. Stuckey had a bloody nose and, as his coach tried to hand him a tissue, he was more focused on receiving his silver medal.
“That was a teaching moment for me, too,” McDougall-Smith said. “He handled it way better than I did."
After all, Stuckey had won 15 matches before his loss in the final round.
Youth wrestling in Michigan
McDougall-Smith is in his fifth season of coaching the Laingsburg Elementary wrestling team. He said this team is one of many youth wrestling teams in Greater Lansing.
Rounds take 90 seconds, with three rounds per match — somewhat shorter than high school programs.
About 20 years ago, the Michigan Youth Wrestling Association (MYWAY) decided it was time for Michigan to catch up with the rest of the country in terms of wrestling. Since then, more than 200 youth wrestling programs — for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade — have been formed in public schools.
McDougall-Smith said he'd actually be surprised to find out a school doesn't have one.
There are also several club wrestling groups, such as the Simmons Academy for Wrestling in Lansing, that are not affiliated with a particular school.
Currently, Laingsburg has girls on the high school team, but not yet at the youth level. McDougall-Smith is trying to change that for next season by offering a girls-only practice.
To learn more about wrestling clubs in mid-Michigan, visit MyWayWrestling.com
What makes it fun for kids
Stuckey's favorite part of wrestling is the practice.
He started wrestling because his older brother, Lorenzo Stuckey, 15, does it at Laingsburg High School. However, Kameron has come to love it as a way of getting out his emotions and having fun.
During practice, kids play fun games like sharks and minnows, where the kids chase each other around the gym like in tag.
McDougall-Smith said for elementary school kids, these practices are mostly to learn athletic movements, much of which transfers over into early wrestling moves.
“I would compare it to tumbling in early gymnastics,” he said.
Laingsburg Elementary's team has about four practices per week.
Wrestling with emotions
Being on a wrestling team requires a certain level of emotional maturity, said McDougall-Smith. His own son is in first grade and is not wrestling yet. This is the case for many kids his age who are not quite ready to join the team.
They have to be ready to go to four practices a week and then have the option to compete on Sundays where they sometimes sit in a gym for the whole day.
Kids also have to be able to deal with failure, "They’re going to get taken down and it’s not always fun," McDougall-Smith said.
There can also be a lot of emotional growth from wrestling, though. “It is an outlet for emotions, but in a very controlled environment," said McDougall-Smith. "Call it wrestling with intention.”
"It is kinda fun to get all of your anger and aggression out,” Stuckey said.
While some other wrestlers are more tentative in matches, Stuckey is never afraid to take on his opponent.
“As soon as he’s on the mat, he’s ready to wrestle and compete. And he does it really well,” McDougall-Smith said.
Through wrestling, Stuckey has also learned the importance of not giving up. That, along with his undefeated record before states, is what helped him get his silver medal.
His takeaway: "Don't give up when you're about to get pinned."
To learn more about youth wrestling and opportunities in your area, visit MYWAYWrestling.com.
Sophia Lada is a news assistant at the Lansing State Journal. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 517.377.1065. Follow her on Twitter @sophia_lada.
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Laingsburg 3rd-grader Kameron Stuckey 2nd at wrestling state finals