Standing in the center of the Montezuma-Cortez High School gymnasium on Saturday, Cortez Wrestling Club head coach Eddie Abeyta stood for a moment and took in the sight of his team’s annual tournament.
On Abeyta’s left, a boy from Blanding, Utah, grappled with a girl from Aztec, New Mexico. On his right, a wrestler from Mancos competed against an opponent from Cortez and across the gym, fans of all ages roared their approval.
In all, 479 total wrestlers between the ages of 4 and 13 competed in the one-day event, which has become one of the largest youth sporting events in the area. More than 1,000 matches were held over the course of the day, and with wrestlers from Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Wyoming in attendance.
“Wrestling brings people from every corner of the planet,” Abeyta said. “It was one of the founding sports that was in the Olympics, and it has been around forever.”
Among the Cortez Wrestling Club’s most successful wrestlers in the event were Kameron Adams, Owen Balfour, Landon Ward and Coby Woody, who each placed first in their divisions.
Also turning in solid performances for Cortez were Baron Howell, Ceejay Manakaja, Daniel Philpott, De’Tarius Mills, Samara Reuben and Rusty Snyder, who each placed second in their divisions.
Roughly 50 wrestlers from the Cortez Wrestling Club competed.
“The Cortez Wrestling Club is the high school and junior high’s farm team,” Abeyta said. “This is where we put kids into the program. They learn (wrestling) and get a taste of it, and if they stick with it, they wrestle in junior high and high school.”
About 35 wrestlers from the Mancos Wrestling Club also competed, including 7-year-old Kameron Rosales, who fell just short in his championship match.
Although disappointed, Rosales cheered up after receiving a second-place medal and after speaking with his coach, talked about why he enjoys wrestling.
“I like wrestling because you get championships,” Rosales said. “I have a lot of friends who wrestle.”
“To start kids at a young age is unbelievably important,” said Mancos Wrestling Club head coach Travis White. “It helps them with the basics, and we are able to advance so much quicker in the high school program when they are coming up out of our peewee program.”
Although the Cortez Wrestling Club will not host another major event in Cortez this year, local wrestlers plan to compete in several events throughout the Four Corners in the coming months before returning to the Cortez tournament next year.
“The wrestling program in Cortez has been around forever,” Abeyta said. “We have a great coaching staff and great board members, and I’d like to thank all of our sponsors. “Hopefully with this tournament being here and all the support here, we can keep doing this year after year.”