SAYLER CALLS FOR NEW WRESTLING FACILITY
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
“We’ve never had a place to call our own.”
That statement from Freeman High School head wrestling coach Chris Sayler set the tone for a request of the Freeman Public School Board to approve a new wrestling facility on the district’s campus — specifically, in the grassy area near the bus lane immediately east of the Freeman Elementary gymnasium.
“We want the same type of equity of other sports in the school,” Sayler told the board at its regular monthly meeting Monday night, Feb. 8. “It’s time to take a serious look at this.”
Wrestlers have practiced in the Freeman Community Center the past two seasons through an arrangement with the city of Freeman, but that has proven to be less than ideal for a program Sayler has been trying to build since returning to his home community more than a decade ago. He cited a number of challenges for the Marion/Freeman cooperative, which also includes wrestlers from Freeman Academy, Canistota and Menno:
It takes 30 minutes of practice time to set up and take down the mat so as not to interfere with others wanting to use the space;
There’s no guarantee the space will even be available based on other community center rentals; Sayler said there have been times when the team cannot practice the Friday before a Saturday tournament because of a wedding setup;
Student-athletes don’t have access to a locker room;
It’s dangerous because there is no buffer between the wrestling mat and the tile floor, increasing the chances of a wrestler sustaining a head injury;
There is no direct access to a weight room, which wrestlers would have if they practiced on campus. Furthermore, the distance between Freeman Public and the Freeman Community Center poses challenges for younger wrestlers who can’t drive and need to find a ride either from older teammates or parents;
There is no training area to provide for storage of hygiene essentials for mat safety and other blood management items like tape and nose plugs. Furthermore, Sayler told the board, there is more than $2,000 worth of equipment that cannot be locked up, including a scale and a sterilite machine used to disinfect the mat.
“There are a lot of negatives with what we’re dealing with as wrestling coaches,” he said. “We have nothing to call our own.”
A brief history
Actually, Sayler says, inadequate wrestling facilities have always been the case at Freeman Public. The program began in the early 1960s, he noted, and he remembers being a young wrestler for the Flyers in the 1980s and having to practice in what was then the elementary school lunchroom — the east end of the Freeman Community Center currently occupied by Timeless Fitness. Sayler says he remembers having to set up and take down the mats and contend with discarded food from the students’ lunch.
After Freeman Public and Marion established a wrestling cooperative in 1992, practice time was spilt between the two schools, and when Sayler returned to his home community in time for the 2008-09 school year, most of the time was spent in Marion. In more recent years and before the Freeman Community Center became an option, a classroom in the junior-senior high school was turned into practice space for the Rebels, but that quickly proved to be too small.
Prior to the weight room relocating to the main floor of the mezzanine two years ago, that space was an option, but contending with the noise of basketball was problematic.
“We’re running out of options to make this work,” he said.
Sayler said that a new wrestling facility is long overdue and would be a boon to a program he has not only tried to sustain, but also grow. Freeman Public has hosted two region tournaments in recent years and will do so again in 2022; the 2021 tournament was scheduled to be here but was moved to Salem on Tuesday to utilized McCook Central’s larger facility and accommodate the 50% attendance rule put in place by the South Dakota High School Activities Association in response to COVID-19.
“When coaches come here … they can’t believe that we don’t have a facility here knowing the history of wrestling here in Freeman, with the wrestlers that we’ve had come through,” said Sayler, who was part of the Rebels Class B championship team in 1993.
Freeman wrestlers also won the title in 1987 and 1988.
And the coach is expecting an influx of wrestlers in the coming years. He told the board he will replace four outgoing seniors with four incoming seventh graders and says he has a class of seven behind them.
But “there are a lot of things holding us back,” he said.
Sayler said he wasn’t asking for a state-of-the-art facility, just something that would accommodate a single mat and address some of the safety concerns he has at the Freeman Community Center.
Mats measure 42 inches x 42 inches, so a facility that measures 62×42 with electricity and access to water would be sufficient, he told the board. If it were to be built just east of the Freeman Elementary gym, wrestlers could utilize existing facilities like locker rooms, coach’s offices and the school’s weight room.
“If we’re hooked up to the school, we don’t need that stuff,” Sayler said. “We have all that equipment here.”
School officials appeared to be supporting of the request.
“That’s a fair ask and I think it’s worth looking into,” board president Kyle Weier said.
Board member Slade Ammann wondered if the district has other space needs and suggested that, if so, the board consider doing something larger to accommodate what those needs might be.
Board member Mark Miller asked if other schools who were part of the cooperative would be contributing to the capital expense since it is a shared sport.
“Would we foot the bill for all five schools?” he asked.
“It would be Freeman footing the bill and improving our campus,” Sayler responded.
An early estimate on the cost put construction at $400,000, which Kunz said the district would have on hand to pay for the project. If it was more, he said, the district might consider taking on some longer-term debt through a bond issue.
An architect is scheduled to be on campus later this month, Kunz said, and he would visit with him then about the need for a wrestling facility.
Watch for more on the Feb. 8 meeting in next week’s Courier.