Warming up
REVERSAL OF FORTUNE: Wrestling program practices despite damage from Isabel
Bulles & Sheridan

By Darnell Mayberry
Daily Press

Published November 11, 2003

POQUOSON -- For the past two years, Poquoson High School's wrestling program has been rebuilding.

The Islanders, who enter the 2003-04 season with eight returning seniors, look like a program on the rise.

But on the eve of the season, Poquoson first had to rebuild its wrestling facility.

Hurricane Isabel left the school's warehouse-style wrestling room severely damaged with floodwaters as high as 31/2 feet in some places. No one expected the water to reach the building, so nothing was stored away. Everything in the room - mats, trophies, uniforms and scales - was damaged.

But on Monday, after a month's worth of frantic activity, the team moved into its new facility in time for the first day of practice.

"We had a great deal of damage and a lot of worries, but the community came together and we're going to make it even better," Poquoson High athletic director Dave Nelson said.

Jonathan Lewis, city of Poquoson schools superintendent, said the school board has agreed to pay the $20,000-25,000 to rebuild the facility. Lewis said he is going to ask FEMA to reimburse the school board. He said the mats, which run between $8,000 and $10,000 each, are the most expensive items and still need to be ordered.

After the storm hit on Sept. 18, things didn't look promising as groups walked through the gym. Besides trying to replace sentimental items like trophies, there were more serious issues to deal with.

Because the flooding was deemed "black water," which is considered hazardous, everything that absorbed water had to be destroyed. Walls and insulation had to be replaced, beginning 4 feet from the top of the highest point of the flooding.

Parents of Poquoson's wrestlers, fearing the season could be canceled, called city and school officials. The school said that nothing could be done at the time because there was also water in Poquoson Elementary School's gym and that needed to be taken care of first.

On Monday, Oct. 13, however, a meeting was set up between Nelson, Lewis, and Poquoson High principal Donald Bock to discuss repairing the wrestling room.

By 9:30 a.m. the next morning, a renovation crew was at the site, approved for 150 hours of work.

"Since the hurricane, we've had some great work crews that have come in and completely redone the wrestling room," said Peninsula Wrestling Association coach Sean Gray, whose team shares the facility with the high school.

Meanwhile, parents, friends and coaches spent time in the room salvaging the little that could be kept and tearing out wallboards and padding.

"That was our number one concern," Nelson said. "When we put the youngsters back in there, we wanted them to be absolutely safe."

Although school officials said the 2003-04 season was never in jeopardy, doubts remained.

"In these kinds of situations, with that kind of extreme damage, there's going to be doubts," Gray said. "There were a lot of questions that needed to be answered."

The first question was where the money would come from.

The Poquoson High wrestling program's biggest supporter is the Poquoson Athletic Association. Because the PAA barely has had enough money to support the program the last two seasons and spent most of its budget on renovations to the wrestling room last year, the PAA couldn't contribute funds, according to Nelson.

That's when Lewis and the rest of the administration stepped in.

"The work that I did with the wrestling program is the same that I would do for any program," Lewis said. "We try to provide for all of our programs equally."

Brad Fitzpatrick, Poquoson's wrestling coach, said he didn't think that the damage to the room would affect his team's performance this year.

"We're just glad to be able to be back in there for the start of our season," Fitzpatrick said.

The wrestlers, who'll be using the room, are faring better now.

"The kids are very positive now," Nelson said. "Initially, when they saw the damages they were discouraged, but now they're real excited."

Gray thinks the situation worked out well in more than one way.

"Being a new head coach here, this was a new experience for me," Gray said. "It was a great bonding experience for me with the parents.

"It was a better-for-worst situation. The bad part is our room was devastated. The good side was that we've got this incredible new room for our kids. When our season starts in the spring, we're going to have one of the premier facilities, not just for the area, but for the state as well."

Darnell Mayberry can be reached at dmayberry@ dailypress.com

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