EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been corrected to identify Miguel Mendez as the head coach of the Longmont Grizzlies. The story also originally reported incorrectly that Scott Hyman wrestled with the Grizzlies when he was in the fifth grade.
Benny Hyman, 10, inherited his love of wrestling from his dad, Scott.
Scott Hyman wrestled as a kid in New Jersey, and when Benny, at age 4, expressed interest in the sport, Hyman immediately got Benny and himself involved with the Longmont Grizzlies. Hyman became a coach and administrator while his son learned different tackles and defensive moves.
Benny now wrestles in the U-12 division for the Grizzlies.
"If you're a wrestler, you're a wrestler for life," Hyman, 49, said. "That first time when you feel the softness of the mat under your feet and you smell the smell of a wrestling room. ... When I had Benny there was no doubt that if he wanted to wrestle I would get re-involved with (wrestling)."
The story is similar for Miguel Mendez, another Grizzlies coach. He wrestled from the age of 4 through high school and is now back as head coach of his hometown team and his son, Calvin, who wrestles in the U-10 division.
"It (coaching) was presented to me, and it was my way to give back," Mendez, 41, said. "There are things I took away from the sport, and a way to instill that in the upcoming generation — it was a hands down no question decision."
The Longmont Grizzlies have been around for 48 years, every year dedicated to helping kids, ages 4 to 14, get into wrestling. It has built strong relationships with local high school wrestling programs to make sure its boys are ready to compete at a high school level. Wrestlers from the program have gone on to place in state and national competitions. Some of their coaches have collegiate wrestling experience.
Tobias Pinson going for a takedown. (Grey Gibbs / Courtesy photo)
The program has a reputation for winning — it competes against other Front Range leagues — but it exists solely to promote youth wrestling and instill a sense of community that spans generations.
"We exist for one purpose, and that's to promote the sport of wrestling," Hyman said. "Everyone who has participated in the program believes strongly that there's certain things this sport can build for a child that other sports can't."
Hyman and Mendez are quick to tout principles of self-reliance and self-discipline, but the proof is in Steve Hazlett.
Hazlett started wrestling with the Longmont Grizzlies back when it was still called the Junior Wrestling League. He wrestled through high school but then switched sports, playing baseball at the University of Wyoming and going on to play eight seasons in the minor leagues.
"I've always reflected back on what I learned from wrestling," said Hazlett, who makes his home in Longmont. "The number one thing wrestling taught me is the willpower thing. ... The mental toughness you gain from wrestling is second to none."
While the competition aspect is present, Hyman said that the Grizzlies are there to introduce the kids to the sport, not turn them into champions.
"The number one job of a youth wrestling coach is to make sure you're not the kid's last wrestling coach," Hyman said. "We want it to be a positive experience for everyone. The most important kid in our program is the kid that comes in and at the beginning doesn't want to compete, just come to practice, and by the end of the season is ready to step out and compete. That's a success for our program."
There are roughly 70 wrestlers in the program, and according to Hyman it's tailored so the kids are learning and growing, and coaches are working with the same boys as they age, to make sure they get proper attention. There are also two boys on the autism spectrum that the coaches work with to make sure their experience is just as positive.
For Benny, that mentality is what made him fall in love with wrestling when he just 4 years old.
"The coaches, they don't just push you and they don't yell at you," Benny said. "When you do something wrong, they help you and help make it better so you can get it down and actually be able to perform it in a real match. If you lose all your matches, they care about that if you tried."
Coach Brett Hufford and U-6 Grizzlies. (Grey Gibbs / Courtesy photo)
For Scott Hyman, seeing the love of wrestling that he's always had get passed on to his son if what makes the Longmont Grizzlies the program it is.
"When he was 4 and 5, sometimes he'd win, sometimes he'd get his little toosh kicked," Hyman said of his son. "But when he'd come off the mat he'd go, 'Daddy, when do I get to go again?' That's when I knew he had it in him, he just loved it."
"They fall in love with the sport," Mendez added. "They can make whatever they want out of it."
Registration opens Oct. 1, and practices start in mid-October. The team practices two times a week, and there are competitions most Saturdays, as well as two tournaments at the end of the season, in February. The league usually practices in a high school gym, it is undecided where this year's practice facility will be."We make sure that every child that wants to be introduced to the sport has the opportunity to be introduced," Mendez said of the program, "whether they're going to be a state champion or walk out on the mat and do their best."