By John Vrancic
Special for Second Half
HARRIS – Most Bark River-Harris and Powers North Central athletic teams have been fierce rivals for decades.
The situation is much different in wrestling, however, as the two schools combined forces for the first time this winter through a co-op venture.
"A year ago, our numbers were really down," said BR-H coach Joe Racicot. "We were approached by the North Central AD (athletic director Randall McLeod) and he asked if we'd be interested in starting a co-op program. Both school boards and the MHSAA approved it. We're now 16 kids strong, but our numbers are still low enough to remain a Division 4 program. We have 10 kids who never stepped on a wrestling mat before this year."
Currently, four North Central athletes are part of the program: junior Daniel Dani at 125 pounds, freshman Drew Allgeyer (145) and Fabian and Owen Chartier.
"I think it's a great opportunity for other kids to see the sport at North Central," said Allgeyer. "This has been a great learning experience, although I've wrestled lot of the same kids I had seen in middle school. It's really fun to wrestle them again and see how much they've improved. I think going right from middle school into high school wrestling has eased the transition. Although, it's still a tough transition. Wrestling against juniors and seniors is the most challenging part."
Allgeyer captured the 145-pound title at Saturday's Mid-Peninsula Conference meet at Gladstone by pinning Iron Mountain sophomore Preston Roberts in five minutes, 33 seconds.
"Today was awesome, and wrestling in the U.P. Championships (Jan. 25 in Marquette) was a unique experience," Allgeyer said moments after receiving his award Saturday. "I'm thankful to have this opportunity."
Dani, runner-up by pin to Gladstone sophomore Hunter Solis in his M-PC debut, is also grateful for his opportunity to participate in high school wrestling.
"This is a great experience," he said. "Four of us came over here, and we've developed close friendships with the Bark River-Harris kids. This is something I've always wanted to try, and it's a huge learning experience. In other sports you can kind of walk on and figure it out right away. Wrestling is not like that. I came in pretty well-conditioned, but this is different in terms of conditioning other parts of the body. Staying on your diet and making weight is one of the most challenging parts."
BR-H sophomore Katie Viau (119) took third at Gladstone, six days after finishing 2-2 at the Michigan Wrestling Association girls state tournament at Adrian.
"It was amazing to see all the girls down there," she said. "That got me more excited about wrestling. I was real happy with it. I did better than I expected. I was pretty pumped. That was the highlight of my season.
"Competing with the boys helps me get better. They're generally stronger and more experienced, which helped prepare me for the state tournament."
Viau, who also plays basketball on the BR-H jayvee team, says she's happy with the new arrangement with North Central.
"This makes us better as a team," she added. "We're all real close, and this gives us more numbers. We have a lot more people than last year, and we've come together as a team.”
John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
PHOTO: Bark River-Harris’ Katie Viau attempts to escape a hold by Westwood’s Alana Nuorala (front) in a 119-pound match Saturday at Gladstone. (Photo by Justin St. Ours/Escanaba Daily Press.)