Paul Valencia: Far East comes near for wrestlers

Commentary: Cultural exchange has benefits beyond the mat

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

Later this month, high school wrestlers will compete in the Clark County Championships.

In February, there will be district and regional championships.

Finally, the best of the best will meet in the Tacoma Dome for the state championships, known as Mat Classic. Annually, it's one of the biggest events in Washington high school sports.

Still, that's "just" state.

This week, Clark County goes global when it comes to wrestling. Fans will have a little international flavor on the high school scene.

Wrestlers from Japan will be competing against some of the top athletes from Clark County in an exhibition dual Friday night at Hudson's Bay High School. Opening ceremonies begin at 6:30 p.m., with the wrestling slated for 7 p.m.

"It's an opportunity to showcase cultural experiences through sports," said Joe Reed, the head coach at Columbia River High School and the local organizer for this event.

Vancouver is one of several stops for the Japanese wrestlers this month. They are scheduled to wrestle in three exhibitions in Oregon before coming to Vancouver later this week. They will then travel north for more competition before heading home from Seattle.

When they arrive in Clark County, the Japanese wrestlers will stay in the homes of Vancouver wrestlers for their stay.

It is not just about wrestling, Reed said. It is about finding common bonds with people who live in different cultures and share a passion for competition.

Reed, a Hudson's Bay graduate, has a lot of experience with wrestling at the international level. In 2000, he coached an American team on a visit to Russia.

"It creates a lot of unique relationships," Reed said. "It's almost like a brotherhood when you're competing against other countries. I've established lifelong friendships with kids around the world who I have wrestled."

The exhibition will include both national anthems and a flag ceremony. Protocol calls for one or two of the athletes to address the crowd, to talk about the benefits of the sport. Reed said he was hoping to get Vancouver city officials to attend, as well, as a way to welcome the visitors.

Organizers of this Northwest trip also want to use this exchange to promote the sport to the International Olympic Committee as well as colleges in the United States. The sport has suffered in numbers in recent years at universities. Last fall, the IOC reinstated wrestling as an Olympic sport seven months after the sport lost its standing in the Games.

Reed said exchanges like the one this week in Vancouver are important to show wrestling's global appeal.

"There are more and more wrestlers than we think," Reed said. "And the only thing different about wrestlers (around the world) seems to be the (language)."

The Japanese-Pacific Northwest cultural exchange through wrestling dates back to the 1960s in Oregon, and 1970 in Washington. Since then, Washington has hosted and traveled to countries such as Iran, Australia, China, and others.

This week, Japan comes to Clark County.

For a little wrestling.

And a lot of international friendship.