By Zachary Reichard

Brayden Cunningham and the rest of the Oakridge wrestling team are making history this season.

Before 2021, Oakridge had not fielded a wrestling team in nearly half a century. Still, Cunningham said he’s more focused on enjoying the experience.

“My dad always reminds me that we’re doing something huge, but I just try to have fun out there,” said Cunningham.

The 10-member team is the first varsity wrestling squad at Oakridge since 1976. Many of the members of the team are new to the sport, but first-time wrestling coach Chad Latsch said that has not dampened enthusiasm.

“We have a lot of guys that really enjoy it,” said Latsch.

Brayden Cunningham (left) holds his stance before the start of his match for Oakridge. Photo/Leo Valdez

Cunningham is one of the few members on the team with previous experience. The sophomore wrestled with the Spring Lake youth wrestling program, but has not been part of a varsity high school team.

“I was excited to get back on the mat and wrestle,” Cunningham said. “Seventh grade was the last year I wrestled.”

The reason for lack of wrestling at Oakridge had less to do with interest, Latsch said, and more to do with the space at the school.

“We never had a place to put a team,” Latsch said. “It’s been put on the back burner.”

That changed with the passing of a school millage in 2019 which resulted in approval of $16.1 million worth of additions and renovations for the district. One of those additions was the creation of an auxiliary gym at the high school. The space gave the school a chance to restart its wrestling program as well as create a competitive cheer team.

The school set aside funds for wrestling uniforms and headgear, and Ravenna loaned the team an extra wrestling mat while the Eagles wait for their own mats to arrive. Latsch said he was incredibly thankful to Ravenna for the assist, as well as the support of the wrestlers’ parents, who have looked for different ways to help the new team.

“The support had been huge, parents asking if they can get food together for the guys,” Latsch said. The next goal will be to raise some money for the team to get warm up uniforms.

Oakridge’s Aidana Rios shakes hands after his match at MCC. Photo/Leo Valdez

Latsch, who also serves as head coach for the junior varsity football team at Oakridge, wrestled at Orchard View under Louis Graham and always had an interest in the sport, including watching the NCAA wrestling tournament when it is televised. He said he thought he would make a good assistant coach for the wrestling team, but took on the role of head coach when the team needed one.

“I’m trying to surround myself with people that know a lot more than me,” Latsch said of his first time as a wrestling coach.

Having the connection to football, Latsch encouraged his players to try wrestling, so the team has a number of competitors at the higher weights. As a result, the Eagles currently only fill five of 14 possible weight classes, but Latsch is hoping to start a program at Oakridge that reaches down into the middle school. Randy Mosley, son of Muskegon Sports Hall of Fame wrestling coach Don Mosley, is leading the wrestling program at the middle school level.

“I’m hoping he builds those numbers up down there,” Latsch said.

As for this year, Latsch said he would like to see every member of his team pick up a win, and he has some wrestlers that he believes can make it to regionals.

Cunningham said while the team has some bumps that come along with starting a program, he’s hopeful to spark more interest in the rest of the school.

“It’s not ideal to fill only five weight classes but we’re out there having fun,” Cunningham said.