CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
A small, 125-student Catholic high school in southeastern Wisconsin is drawing national and international attention for its unique wrestling program, despite having just a handful of competitors on its team last school year.
Catholic Central High School in Burlington has completely transformed its grappling offerings, becoming the first high school in the United States to offer both Greco-Roman wrestling for boys and freestyle wrestling for girls, while simultaneously stepping away from its traditional, folkstyle high school.
One of the first to buy into the change, according to parent and organizer Greg Amborn and Greco-Roman coach Bill Kahle, was Catholic Central Principal Bonnie Scholz.
“She was excited about the possibility of starting a new tradition at the school with the launch of the Topper Wrestling Club,” said Amborn, whose son Herny placed third at the WIAA state meet in 2019 as a freshman but has embraced the switch to Greco-Roman.
It seems that such a radical, experimental shift in philosophy had to happen at a private school where there is more freedom to have different offerings. Kahle said Scholz’s vision was essential in getting the TWC off the ground.
“There’s not many people I’ve met that were willing to embrace something like this and then say they want to support it academically,” Kahle said. “In a public school, you can’t take off three weeks or four weeks of the year. A school with the academic tradition of a Catholic Central, it’s a real win.”
The hope is the new Topper Wrestling Club will attract students to Catholic Central from Wisconsin and neighboring states who have aspirations of competing at the international level in wrestling. Greco-Roman is almost exclusively the style of wrestling used in international competitions and the Olympics.
It differs from the traditional and familiar high school and college folkstyle wrestling in that competitors are not allowed to attack the legs, and the rules and scoring system are geared toward upper-body throws.
“There’s a lot more action,” Amborn said.
Freestyle is more similar to the high school style, but the scoring systems and strategy are different. A number of colleges who offer women’s wrestling offer freestyle programs. The girls team will be coached by Kevin Bird, who is a big name across the state in women’s wrestling.
Right now, the Topper Wrestling Club is in its infancy, but as word has spread, the leaders of the program have started receiving interest and inquiries from athletes around the Midwest.
“We’re getting the traction we’ve hoped to receive,” Amborn said. “Now, it’s just taking them that next step and getting them enrolled and part of the program.”
Because of the lack of opportunities compete against similar high schools, the leaders of the club have been creative in creating ways to keep the athletes’ interest throughout the season, which runs from the fall through March. The program is primarily focused on development, but the club did compete in a pair of tournaments in Sweden in October and has plans to compete in Denmark in January, and Moldova and Austria later in the season.
“They may not get the number of matches; the focus is on getting their skill level within this discipline up to a level where they can compete internationally and place at these high-level national tournaments,” Amborn said. “The goal of our coaches here is to develop wrestlers who are able to make world teams and represent the United States on the world stage and in international competition.”
In addition, because of his connections around the United States, Kahle is able to send some of his athletes to Colorado Springs to train and he plans to take the group to Northern Michigan University to train later in the season.
Those interested in learning more about the Topper Wrestling Club can log on to catholiccentralhs.org, where there is a link to the club, or they can contact email@example.com
“The sport teaches discipline, focus, camaraderie,” Amborn said. “What we’re looking to develop in the Topper Wrestling Club is a more holistic experience for the boys, through their international travel, learning different cultures, their interpersonal skills. We definitely have that faith-based approach to what we’re doing.”