Wrestling camp brings NCAA champ to Eastside

Youngsters had the chance to work with an NCAA champion on the wrestling mat

Mercer Island High School wrestling coach Creighton Laughary knows the inside of a gymnasium isn’t the most attractive place for youngsters during the summer.

There are tournaments for select soccer and baseball teams around the West Coast, offseason workouts for football and basketball that help players gain the inside track for playing time during the season and of course, the beckoning waters of Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish.

“It shows a lot of commitment,” he said. “To come into the gym for a week shows they really want to succeed.”

For around 150 kids inside the pavilion at Northwest University earlier this week, there was good reason to get out of the sun, as one of the nation’s most recognizable youth wrestling camps made the trip to the area.

J Robinson Intensive Wrestling Camps brought its traveling roadshow to the Eastside, bringing two-time NCAA Champion Tony Nelson, and a host of top-level coaches from around the country to tutor area youth.

Bellevue Christian coach Pete DeLaRosa brought a handful of his athletes to the camp, saying the reputation of J Robinson — the head wrestling coach at the University of Minnesota and namesake of the camp — precedes the man.

“It’s the number one camp in the nation,” DeLaRosa said. “The number one thing is character, and how he explains hard work.”

Nelson, a back-to-back NCAA heavyweight champion during his junior and senior seasons, was one of the chief instructors at the camp, which included local athletes as well preps from as far away as Alaska.

“It’s a pretty full day,” Nelson said. “It keeps them busy and makes them stay focused.”

Matt Oss, a rising sophomore at Skyline High School in Sammamish and third year wrestler, said the chance to learn technique and life lessons from Nelson, Robinson and the rest of the coaches was an experience he wouldn’t pass up.

“I really want to get better,” he said. “I’ve seen him (Nelson) on TV and it is just really cool to be here with him.”

For Nelson, who hopes to make the US National Team and possibly compete in the Olympics, traveling around the country during his summer and helping teach youngsters about the sport that has taken him to incredible heights is exactly where he wants to be.

“It’s a great way to give back to wrestling, help the younger generation learn,” he said. “It feels good when you see a kid doing something you showed them.”