POULSBO — Coaching wrestling comes as natural to Robert Gomez as breathing.
It’s why Gomez, the second-season North Kitsap wrestling coach, was surprised that the sport wasn’t as prevalent in the community as he believes it could be for youth.
“My mentality is a little different than most coaches around here because I come from a wrestling community,” he said before the start of Wednesday’s practice at North Kitsap.
That community would be Othello, Wash. A small town located in Central Washington 26 miles south of Moses Lake.
From his children to cousins, nephews, uncles, parents, you name it, and Gomez’s family spends most of their time on a wrestling mat.
It’s a way of life in Othello.
“I know how to build kids up, and that’s what they do there,” Gomez said. “From a young age, they build everybody up.”
North Kitsap is 2-1 in the Olympic League and in second place behind 3-0 Olympic.
The Vikings are growing by leaps and bounds, Gomez said.
“I’m trying to build it as a team sport, not as an individual,” he said.
Gomez wasn’t sure how long it had been since the Vikings won a regular season team title, but that ended when North Kitsap won the North Mason Classic Dec. 23.
“We had five kids in the finals, and we had two kids take first, and three kids take second,” Gomez said. “Right there from last year where we only had one or two kids in the finals now, we’re up to five. That’s how we’re progressing.”
Zach Streun, a senior, said he’s proud to be on the team.
“We started not so great, and we built up a program since then that’s doing pretty well this season,” he said. “I’m happy that we’ve come this far and I’m proud of this team.”
Gomez, who started coaching eight years ago with Northwest Wrestling Club and at North Kitsap Middle School, began recruiting students by talking to anyone and everyone he saw if they had interest in trying out for a no-cut sport. He has 19 boys and five girls on the team this season as opposed to six total last season.
“I just was asking kids that were sitting by themselves (at lunch) and just reaching out to everybody,” he said. “Wrestling isn’t one of those sports where you have to look a certain way or be a certain way. It’s kind of a different sport for different people,” he added. “I don’t shut my door to any kid.”
Gomez, who puts as much emphasis on grades as he does wrestling, said the culture of the sport can fit any body type and skill as long as they put the work into their development. It’s not easy. The Vikings practice Monday through Friday and are at tournaments every Saturday during the season for 12 to 14 hours.
Sophomore Holly Beaudoin, who placed second in the 105-pound class at Mat Classic last season, said it wasn’t so much a culture change as it was an attitude change.
“Last year we had a lot of wrestlers quit,” she said. “This year everyone’s sticking with it and doing good and pushing hard.”
She wouldn’t be surprised to see many more of her teammates joining her at the Tacoma Dome next month.
“Definitely,” she said. “I think people are starting to take more interest in it now that we’re starting to make a name for ourselves. So that’s fun.”