PRINEVILLE — Tuesday night was humbling for Central Oregon wrestlers. Of the 16 matches that took place at Crook County High School, only three were won by locals.
But that was a back-burner storyline for the Wrestling Culture Exchange, which was presented by Restore College Wrestling Oregon, and pitted a Central Oregon all-star team in a freestyle wrestling contest against an all-star squad from Japan, one that included 14 athletes who placed third or better at any one of the three national high school tournaments in Japan in the past year.
“It puts things into perspective,” said Crook County coach Jake Huffman, one of four coaches for the Central Oregon all-star team. “It’s a big pond out there. I think the data’s a little skewed because we’re wrestling folkstyle (as opposed to Tuesday’s freestyle format) right now. Their focus, their mindset is a little different than that of the Japanese, who trains that one style (freestyle).
“But also, it was good to perform at a high level,” Huffman continues. “If nothing else, it gives our kids a little humility and lets them know what they have to work on regardless of who they wrestle. It also reminds them that no matter how good they are, how hard they wrestle, there’s always someone who could be better.”
Redmond High’s Mitch Willett (132 pounds) and Crook County’s Trevor Rasmussen (211) and Jason Williams (265) recorded the lone wins for Central Oregon, each logging pins in their respective matches.
Huffman said that when Japanese wrestlers picked up victories, they would perform a backflip. So, when Willett’s win was secured, the Redmond freshman positioned himself in front of the Japanese bench and returned the favor with a celebratory backflip of his own. Williams, unable to accomplish the acrobatic feat, settled with a somersault.
“It was all about fun,” Huffman said, “and being excited about wrestling.”
The young athletes were not the only ones enjoying the clash of cultures, as supporters and spectators filled the Crook County gym.
“There was energy there,” Huffman said. “There was definitely a buzz in the air.”
The touring Japanese team competed in Portland on Monday and will travel to Crescent Valley High in Corvallis for a Thursday matchup before moving on to two high schools in Washington. Proceeds from Tuesday night’s event go to the Oregon College Wrestling Start-Up Fund, which helps restore college wrestling programs in Oregon.
“We practiced with them (Tuesday) afternoon, and our kids don’t speak a lick of Japanese and they don’t speak a lick of English,” Huffman said. “But you put them in the wrestling room and they know exactly what to do. Wrestling is a universal language.”
The Wrestling Culture Exchange allowed for Central Oregon wrestlers to interact with athletes from another country and become familiar with their culture. Japanese wrestlers and coaches stayed with families in Central Oregon and will engage in activities, according to Huffman, such as feeding elk, chasing cows and cutting down some trees.
Said Huffman: “Do some Crook County things.”