Popeye Wrestling Freestyle draws hundreds of youngsters to Homer

It was shoulder-to-shoulder action at Homer High School’s Alice Witte Gymnasium on Saturday, as 370 wrestlers from Southcentral Alaska participated in the annual Popeye Wrestling Freestyle Tournament.

Pairs of wrestlers dominated the gym floor that was divided to accommodate eight matches at a time. Start and stop whistles were blown. Coaches shouted directions. Family members cheered. A computer-generated schedule of who was wrestling when was displayed on the gym wall and on a wall in the commons area.

“Popeye was represented with 51 wrestlers in the meet,” said Popeye spokesperson Chris Perk. “The team placed sixth out of 16 teams. Surviving the tough competition and earning championships were Miles Tressler, bantam 43; Austin Shafford, novice 87; Teddy Croft, schoolboy 142; and James Rios, cadet, 132.”

Perk also provided the following results:

Runner-up finishes: John Bradshaw, novice 83; Wayne Newman, schoolboy 94; Brendon Fenex, schoolboy 153; Heather Harrington, cadet, 193; and Channing Grillo, open 149.

Third-place finishes: Saoirse Cook, pre-bantam 43; Jai Badajos, pre-bantam 42;Gabe Bradshaw, pre-bantam 55; Chris Thomas, bantam 51; Carter Woodhead, bantam 53; Gage Cotton, novice 94; Ian Stovall, schoolboy 88; Luciano Fasulo, schoolboy 104; 

Levi King, schoolboy 152; Kyle Wells, cadet 140; and Austin McGregor, junior 143.  

The wrestlers reflected varying years of experience. For 12-year-old Austin Shafford, this is his seventh year to participate in Popeye.

“I had participated in it a little bit as a kid and was aware that Chris Perk, who I’ve known a good part of my life, was the coach,” said Austin’s dad, Eric Shafford. “Austin’s cousin had signed up the year before and we just thought it would be good to do, too.”

As a Popeye parent, Shafford makes sure his son is at practices, is on hand to support him at meets and helps provide food for visitors. 

“It’s been an incredible character-building sport for sure,” said Shafford of the sport’s impact on Austin. “It’s a life sport. It’s an individual sport, so you learn to rely on yourself and challenge yourself. It builds strong mental and physical ability.”

Popeye wrestling is a three-month program that keeps the wrestlers active through the winter and wraps up in May.

“Chris Perk has done an awesome job,” said Shafford. “I really like the way he coaches and his values. How he treats the kids is really incredible.”

For families who might be considering wrestling, Shafford said, “I would strongly suggest trying it out. Girls or boys. Just see if it fits for them. It’s not a sport for everyone, obviously, but you might be surprised who enjoys it.” The Homer Popeye club heads to Nikiski this weekend for another Freestyle Tourney. 

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.