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April 13, 2024 April 13, 2024

Local athletes forge path to provincial championship

Posted on March 14, 2024 by Taber Times
Times Photo submitted

By Garrett Simmons
For Taber Times

A grassroots athletic program has defied the odds to claim the 3A boys team provincial title at the 2024 Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association Provincial Wrestling Championships.

McNally High School in Edmonton played host to the tournament, an event that proved the W.R. Myers Rebels wrestling program is a force to be reckoned with.

“What began as a modest initiative just three years ago, spearheaded by Bryden O’Connor, has blossomed into a powerhouse in the provincial wrestling scene,” said Jamie O’Connor, who helped manage the team on the weekend along with Jenelle O’Connor and assistant coach Carsen Reid, as head coach Emmitt Campbell was unable to attend the tournament.

What started with a mere three aspiring athletes initially, Bryden O’Connor approached Campbell and rallied support from the athletic director to kickstart the program. Despite humble beginnings, the team showed promise from the outset, and clinched three rural provincial silver finishes over the past three years. Two of those were in the 2A and the other was in 3A.

“This past weekend has truly solidified the W.R. Myers Rebels place in wrestling history,” said coach O’Connor. “Competing in provincials, the team delivered a performance that surpassed all expectations.”

O’Connor added none of the success the team experienced this past weekend would have been possible without the dedication of Campbell, who has named Myers coach of the year for 2022/2023.

“Emmitt is the head coach and has been there since the reintroduction of the program three years ago,” said O’Connor. “There aren’t enough words to describe the impact he has had on these young athletes. The confidence, strength, support and belief he has given over the years has helped to shape all these young men into the wrestlers they are today. They all have appreciated his guidance and they love the fact that he’s their coach.”

O’Connor added Reid also stepped in as an assistant coach this season and provided another valuable voice as he shared his experiences to help the athletes achieve success.

The talent and resilience Rebels wrestlers displayed ultimately helped the team upset Cardson in the 3A ranks, the school that took the rural title just two weeks ago.

In the 90-kilogram category, Bryden O’Connor demonstrated his prowess on the mat and won his first bout by fall (1:58) over Valentyn Yukhymchuk of Ross Sheperd, the eventual silver medalist. Despite facing tough opponents from larger schools, he found another victory over Aiden Luke of Ross Sheperd, with a technical win with a score of 13-3.

“O’Connor’s determination was truly shown as he finished with a respectable 2-2 record,” said his coach.

Tony Peters competed in the 98-kilogram division and proved to be a formidable opponent, as he secured a bronze medal after an impressive performance throughout the tournament.

“Peters showcased his strength and skill and won his first three bouts by pin, including a stunning victory over the eventual gold medalist,” said O’Connor, who highlighted the win over Peter Murphy of Western Canada High School (1:25).

First-year wrestler Nikolas Binnie also made a name for himself in the 98-kilogram division, as he displayed tenacity and resilience in each match.

“Despite a tough start, Binnie fought back and showcased his potential with a win over Ethan Stonehouse of Lillian Osbourne by fall (0:28), and another win over Mark Nebre of W.P. Wagner,” said O’Connor, who added Binnie finished the tournament with a 2-2 record.

In the 120-kilogram category, Benjamin Gardner emerged as a standout performer, and secured the team’s second bronze medal.

“Gardner’s dominance on the mat was evident as he powered through his opponents with precision and determination, as he ultimately claimed victory in the bronze-medal match over Afif Hatoum of Archbishop O’Leary by fall (1:02),” said O’Connor.

Though not every wrestler secured a podium finish, each member of the Rebels team contributed to the collective success. Benjamin Atwood and Hugo Saenz-Ramirez both qualified for provincials. Atwood took sixth place, while Saenz-Ramirez fought two tough bouts, and was eliminated from the competition after two consecutive losses.

In the end, O’Connor added the 3A title represented the culmination of a journey for a collection of athletes that have worked tirelessly over the years from their tiny little corner of practice space in their school.

“The small-town team’s triumph at the provincial championships was more than just a victory — it was a testament to the power of passion, perseverance and teamwork,” he said. “It’s truly a story of a team from humble beginnings working its way up the ladder to become provincial champions.”

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