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Stefan Gestwicki is the Sports Editor at the Chautauqua Star. He started with the company in January of 2013. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Sport Management from SUNY Fredonia, he spent three years employed by the Jamestown Jammers in various roles before working as a sports reporter for nearly two years. Stefan lives in Dunkirk with his wife Adriel. His favorite sports teams are the Pittsburgh Pirates, Green Bay Packers, Wisconsin Badgers and Phoenix Suns.
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When Three Become One
Published Thursday, January 31st, 2013 in Stefan Gestwicki

MAYVILLE — There’s been a lot of discussion — often heated — on the recent merger of the Chautauqua Lake and Maple Grove football programs for the 2013 season.

Fans of both programs understandably feel like they are going to lose the identities that have made the programs so successful over the past several years.

The ultimate defense of the merger, however, is right in front of their eyes — the Westfield-Ripley-Chautauqua Lake (WRCL) wrestling team.

When low enrollment numbers threatened the teams’ ability to survive alone, the three schools combined their wrestling programs this year and all they have done is put together the No. 4-ranked small school program in Western New York.

The Westfield-Ripley-Chautauqua Lake wrestling team has turned some heads this year and is currently ranked No. 4 among small schools in Western New York. (Photo by Stefan Gestwicki)

“I thought the possibilities of the team were great,” WRCL head coach Brad Rowe said. “We have a lot of ability. The schools always brought something to the table. When you put it all together, you get the success that we’re having this year. It’s a really competitive team.”

When looking at the team, it’s obvious that it’s one united team. These are no longer athletes from three different schools forced to work together, this is the WRCL wrestling team.

“The kids responded great,” Rowe added. “Right from the get-go there was a little bit of a feeling-out process, but now, you can’t tell which kids are from which school. They all stick together pretty tight and they’ve created some bonds.”

Even the logistics hasn’t been too much of a hurdle for Rowe, the athletes or the coaching staff.

“We’ve been alternating between Ripley and Chautauqua Lake for practices,” Rowe explained. “We spent two weeks at each one. It breaks it up nicely so that none of the kids are really forced to travel all the time. We’ve had competitions at all three schools.”

The whole process has been such a huge success in fact, that Rowe was at a loss for words when asked what the hardest part of this season has been.

“I’m trying to think,” he said after a long pause. “Probably in my eyes it’s more of a policy thing. You’re following three different schools’ policies every once in a while. There’s been nothing that’s been too bad. It’s just a little more managing. It’s run pretty smoothly I think.”

Not only does Rowe have nothing negative to say about the combination of programs, but he can’t stop pointing out the positive aspects of it.

“It’s been great,” he reiterated. “The guys all fill in together. Each school has brought its own style from the past. You can see a blend of the styles coming together. It’s been real nice to mix it up a little bit. You get all different personalities and different faces in the wrestling room. It’s been great.”

While Rowe may be the head coach, he has plenty of help. The coaching staff currently consists of 13 members, a combination from all three school districts.

“Coaches have come along from each district just like the kids,” Rowe added. “It’s the same thing — you get different faces and different techniques. You get things that coaches can teach better from each end. It’s worked out great. We have a lot of faces in the room and it keeps things fresh for the kids too.”

With all the experience Rowe has gained this year, he’s become a wealth of knowledge regarding the combination of sports programs. Though he wasn’t asked for his advice during the football decision-making.

“I wasn’t really consulted about it,” he said. “Although a lot of other schools have asked a lot of questions about how it works. In the future you might see a few more schools doing it. On the football end, I haven’t really talked to any coaches.”

It might not be a bad idea for the Chautauqua Lake and Maple Grove coaches to give Rowe a ring because it certainly seems like he has handled the situation about as perfectly as could be.

CONTRIBUTOR: Stefan Gestwicki
LOCATION: Mayville
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