East meets west

Central Oregon wrestlers host team from Japan on Tuesday

By Grant Lucas / The Bulletin / @Grant_Lucas88

Published Jan 4, 2014 at 12:01AM

You do not have to travel far to find the state with the oldest tradition of wrestling culture exchange in the country.

And you will not have to put too many miles on the odometer to see history continue next week.

On Tuesday at Crook County High School in Prineville, Restore College Wrestling Oregon will present one stage of the Wrestling Culture Exchange, a tradition that dates back to 1963. The 2014 Exchange will pit a Central Oregon all-star wrestling team — a group of 18 wrestlers representing six high schools — against an all-star squad from Japan.

“The No. 1 purpose was to just promote a cultural exchange through sport — the sport being wrestling,” says Buck Davis, former longtime wrestling coach at Bend High School and a member of the Restore College Wrestling Oregon (RCWOR) steering committee, which is helping bring the Japanese team to the Northwest.

“It should be a good showcase for the sport of wrestling,” says Crook County coach Jake Huffman, one of four coaches for the Central Oregon team. “That’s what it’s all about, to get people educated about the sport and to get people from different cultures to get to know each other and become great friends for a lifetime.”

The 14-wrestler Japanese team — which Davis says was contacted via USA Wrestling, America’s governing body for the sport — will make stops at three Oregon high schools before moving on to compete in tournaments at two schools in Washington. The Japanese begin the tour at Barlow High in Gresham on Monday and on Tuesday will be in Central Oregon, where visiting players and coaches will stay with host families.

“It’s more than just a competition,” says Davis, who as a graduated-senior wrestler at Bend High competed on the 1973 Oregon team that went to Japan and later coached the Cuba- and Puerto Rico-bound Oregon group of 1988. “That’s a huge part of it, but it’s a chance for these young men to see our country and hopefully see the best of our country and see the best of Central Oregon.”

The Central Oregon All-Stars include Crook County’s Trayton Libolt (110 pounds), Kurt Mode (121), Grayson Munn (132), Tyler Berger (145), Collbran Meeker (145), Brendan Harkey (163), Clark Woodward (163), Trevor Rasmussen (211), Gunnar Robirts (211) and Jason Williams (265); Redmond High’s Austin Rystedt (121), Mitch Willett (132) and John Hickey (132); Madras’ Ian Oppenlander (110) and Samuel Flores (132); Culver’s Clay McClure (145); Bend High’s Michael Hageman (211); and Seth Nonnenmacher (185) of Burns.

The dual meet — in which wrestler will compete in freestyle, rather than the folkstyle typical of high school wrestling — is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for students. All proceeds go to the RCWOR’s Oregon College Wrestling Start-Up Fund, which helps restore college wrestling programs in Oregon.

“The state of Oregon, in 1973, there were 25 colleges that had wrestling,” says Davis, who wrestled collegiately in the 1970s at the University of Oregon, which in 2007 cut its wrestling program. “That’s junior colleges, small four-year colleges, and the big Division I schools. We had 25. Now, we have five. … Our goal as Restore College Wrestling is to bring back some of these college programs and maintain the ones that we do have and create opportunity for some of our high school athletes to continue on and wrestle after high school.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0307, glucas@bendbulletin.com.