Ready to hit the mat

For those who have championed the idea for years, getting a wrestling team established at Hoover High has been a slippery proposition to pin down, until now.

Longtime Hoover teacher and assistant football coach Mark Bitetti has made prior attempts to plant the seeds of the sport in a school, as well as area at large, that's long been barren when it comes to grappling.

"I've been here for 15 years and I've always been amazed that there's no wrestling out this way," said Bitetti, who formerly coached the sport in the wrestling hotbed of Covina. "Wrestling's a huge deal in the Middle East. A lot of the kids that feed in here are from the Middle East. There's world champions right here in our community and it's a huge deal in all of those countries. For many years, I've had all kinds of kids saying, 'Hey, let's get a wrestling [team], let's do it.'"

Behind the full support of the school and Glendale Unified School District administration, the vision will finally become a reality. Funding has been approved for the creation of a Tornadoes wrestling program, including, most importantly, a 38 square-foot wrestling mat for the gym, and more than two dozen prospective team members have already begun weight training for the start of the winter season in November.

"We've been toying around with it for several years, the idea of doing it keeps coming up," Hoover Athletic Director Jack Van Patten said. "[Hoover Principal] Dr. [Jennifer] Earl kind of got behind it and Mark Bitetti wanted to take the lead on it.

"[Dr. Earl] has fully supported it and she's done a lot of stuff to get it going. …Everything was in alignment — right place, right time, right people."

Some things are still up in the air, such as how many matches the Tornadoes will be able to schedule and just who they will compete against in their inaugural season. No other Pacific League member schools field wrestling teams, meaning Hoover will be a freelance team for at least the 2011 season.

"We're going to have to try to get into a league," Bitetti said. "We're going to see how things progress and then we possibly could try to go to some tournaments [as an] at-large type thing.

"This first year is kind of a feeling out process."

The most logical course of action would appear to be petitioning to join the Rio Hondo League, which includes nearby La Cañada High, as well as several other wrestling schools from the San Gabriel Valley

"We haven't had the mat time necessary, but we're hoping for next year we'll be in a league and we're petitioning to get into a league," Bitetti said. "The most obvious league close by would be the Rio Hondo League. We're hoping they would want to have us in that league."

In the meantime, scheduling nonleague matches may be problematic for Hoover because of the point system that regulates the number of matches teams can undertake in a season.

"I don't think any school would want to [schedule us for nonleague matches] because you only get a certain amount of points and they don't like wasting them on an exhibition-type thing," Bitetti said. "You can't go to 10 tournaments and have all these dual [matches], and they do that for the safety of the wrestlers."

Bitetti coached wrestling for seven years at Edgewood High, which eventually merged with West Covina High, before also coaching at Montclair and Northview.

Currently heading the Tornadoes freshman football team, Bitetti, a former college football player, said wrestling is a great side sport for football players.

"I really think it helped me my last couple years of football because they just go hand in hand," Bitetti said. "[It's] the toughness and the types of things you do in wrestling, they just help football so much. We're talking to [the football players, saying] 'You want to be a better football player, wrestling's a great way.' I don't think football necessarily helps wrestling too much, but wrestling will definitely help football."

Bitetti said he expects the roster of 25 he is currently working with to as much as double once football season has concluded. Another long-term effect Bitetti hopes the program will have is generating interest in creating youth wrestling programs in Glendale.

"It's a neat thing for kids," Bitetti said. "A lot of kids do karate and other stuff, but I think a lot of kids would be interested in wrestling."

"I'm heading up this thing, but I'm hoping there's some really top caliber guys [in the community] that want to come on board and help make this thing happen."

While the team is still limited to the weight room for the time being, as it waits for the mat to arrive, there is already some buzz around the campus about a brand new sport coming to Hoover.

"Kids have always expressed interest in it and Coach Bitetti's always expressed interest in coaching it, so here it is," Van Patten said. "We're very happy the district was nice enough to get us [the wrestling mat] in these hard times. We're happy with it.

"Obviously, we're not expecting to win state the first time out. Down the line, we will probably look to get into a wrestling league. The main thing is just to get it going."

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