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Tiny Titans: Country's 2nd-largest youth wrestling club teaches Utah County children discipline, fun

The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Well, if that statement is true, there isn’t too much hurt in store for some of Utah County’s youngest athletes — and it also helps that they’ll be falling on padded ground.

The Westlake Wrestling Club youth program allows children as early as preschool to get acclimated to the sport of wrestling. However, with some of the children being as young as 3 years old, learning the ropes of wrestling is much more focused on growing an appreciation for the sport through games rather than takedowns and titles.

“Our main focus is to have fun and to ensure that they leave happy and they want to come back,” said Jeff Newby, head coach of the Westlake Wrestling Club and executive director of USA Wrestling Utah. “The longer they stick with it, generally the better they’re going to be.”

However, Newby stressed that starting young doesn’t necessarily mean a child will be a successful wrestler. “Kids can start wrestling at any age, really,” said Newby. “Some of the best wrestlers in the world started out wrestling in junior high.”

According to Newby, the Westlake Wrestling Club is the second largest youth club of its kind in the United States.

The club has several different age groups and levels of skill, including: three pre-kindergarten and kindergarten groups, an elementary group (first through fourth grades), a junior high group (fifth through ninth grade), and an advanced group comprised of higher-skilled second through eighth graders.

Newby estimates that the youngest group has about 70 children in it, who are divided into three different classes. One class comprised of older and more experienced youths is slightly more geared toward competing in competitions, whereas the two other classes don’t compete.

Newby is a wrestler himself, and he too started as soon as he was able.

“I actually started when I was 3½,” said Newby. He grew up in Iowa, but moved to Utah when he began high school, and wrestled at Box Elder High School. After graduating, Newby then continued his wrestling career at Boise State University for two years, and then Utah Valley University for three years.

After moving to Saratoga Springs from Lindon five years ago, Newby began the Westlake Wrestling Club as a way to introduce his two sons, one 5½ years old and the other 2½ years old, to the sport he loves. The older of the two boys wrestles in the more competitive pre-kindergarten group, whereas the younger brother is already trying to follow in his brother’s and father’s footsteps.

“It’s fun to watch because he enjoys it,” said Newby. “He enjoys being with the kids and running around, playing games with them. But, he doesn’t understand exactly how to wrestle, but he’s starting to get it by just watching. You’ll see that with a lot of these kids that have bigger brothers, they see their older brothers do it, and they start doing it.”

Newby explained that having siblings or parents involved in the club can help younger children feel more comfortable learning the basic moves of wrestling. Although, as any parent knows, little kids can have big emotions, and sooner or later, those are likely to come out while wrestling.

“They’re eventually going to fall over, hit their head, they’re going to cry, or bump heads with another kid,” said Newby. “The hardest thing is dealing with emotions at that age. It’s that balance of teaching toughness versus understanding that they’re just 5 years old. You’ve got to be caring, and you’ve got to love them too.”

In terms of competitions, there are tournaments most weekends during the wrestling season even for the youngest of children, according to Newby. Wrestling clubs such as Newby’s are also commonplace.

“If the kids want to go they can go, but if they don’t, we don’t push it,” said Newby. He explained that children seldom break the rules in competitions, despite not being taught too much about rules at their earliest stages since they’re hard to retain for children. Weight classes also aren’t too defined at the earliest stages of the sport. Newby explained that for the youngest kids, tournaments are more about building a desire to keep at wrestling and positive memories.

“It’s not about winning and losing right now, just go have fun,” said Newby. “As a kid, that’s what I remember. I don’t remember my matches, but I remember going out to eat with my dad afterward. And so those are the good things we want the kids to remember. The most enjoyable part of coaching is seeing these kids have successes, even if they’re super small ones.”

Such a success is still present in the mind of Viliami Rarick, a 5-year-old wrestler in the club from Saratoga Springs who goes by the nickname Bubba.

“He had a kid that beat him at the Turkey Tussle who’s really good,” explained Bubba’s father, Chase Rarick. “What did you tell me after you lost?” asked Chase of his son. “You said next time…” “I’ll pin him,” said Bubba, finishing his father’s sentence. Chase went on, “He’s wrestled him twice more after that, and Bubba’s beaten him both times.”

Chase is not a wrestler himself, but fostered a great appreciation for the sport watching his best friends, members of the Lofthouse family of wrestlers, achieve several titles at Mountain Crest High School, as well as seeing betterment in other members of his own family, including his wife’s brothers, through the sport.

Now, of Chase’s seven children, five girls and two boys, four of them wrestle, and the others plan on it, too.

“You take an average kid in first grade and they just can’t handle themselves; wrestling teaches them discipline and self-respect,” said Chase. “Win or lose, it’s on them. So, it teaches them accountability and how to be able to handle pressure and do hard things.”

However, Chase knows that, especially at a young age, success in wrestling takes time and consistent effort.

“I think that’s key to what Jeff does,” said Chase. “He helps the kids not just enjoy the successes of the sport, but to really be able to enjoy the process by knowing — and again, when they’re young, they look for instant gratification — that if they work hard, even if they lose, they can still go get a treat.”

After a practice, which ended in every child getting a treat for their efforts, Bubba stated that his favorite thing about the club was simply, “We always have fun.”

Blowback: Iran abandons nuclear limits after US killing

TEHRAN, Iran — The blowback over the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general mounted Sunday as Iran announced it will no longer abide by the limits contained in the 2015 nuclear deal and Iraq’s Parliament called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil.

The twin developments could bring Iran closer to building an atomic bomb and enable the Islamic State group to stage a comeback in Iraq, making the Middle East a far more dangerous and unstable place.

Iranian state television cited a statement by President Hassan Rouhani’s administration saying the country would not observe limits on fuel enrichment, on the size of its enriched uranium stockpile and on its research and development activities.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran no longer faces any limitations in operations,” a state TV broadcaster said.

In Iraq, meanwhile, lawmakers voted in favor of a resolution calling for an end to the foreign military presence in the country, including the estimated 5,200 U.S. troops stationed to help battle Islamic State extremists. The bill is subject to approval by the Iraqi government but has the backing of the outgoing prime minister.

In yet another sign of rising tensions and threats of retaliation over the deadly airstrike, the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq said it is putting the battle against IS on hold to focus on protecting its own troops and bases.

The string of developments capped a day of mass mourning over Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad on Friday. Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets in the cities of Ahvaz and Mashhad to walk alongside the casket of Soleimani, who was the architect of Iran’s proxy wars across the Mideast and was blamed for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in suicide bombings and other attacks.

The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment on Iran’s announcement.

As for Iraq, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked before the vote the whether the U.S. would comply with a troop-withdrawal request but would not answer directly. He said the U.S. “is prepared to help the Iraqi people get what it is they deserve and continue our mission there to take down terrorism from ISIS and others in the region.”

Iran insisted that it remains open to negotiations with European partners over its nuclear program. And it did not back off from earlier promises that it wouldn’t seek a nuclear weapon.

However, the announcement represents the clearest nuclear proliferation threat yet made by Iran since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. It further raises regional tensions, as Iran’s longtime foe Israel has promised never to allow Iran to produce an atomic bomb.

Iran did not elaborate on what levels it would immediately reach in its program. Tehran has already broken some of the deal’s limits as part of a step-by-step pressure campaign to get sanctions relief. It has increased its production, begun enriching uranium to 5% and restarted enrichment at an underground facility.

While it does not possess uranium enriched to weapons-grade levels of 90%, any push forward narrows the estimated one-year “breakout time” needed for it to have enough material to build a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations watchdog observing Iran’s program, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, Iran said that its cooperation with the IAEA “will continue as before.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi earlier told journalists that Soleimani’s killing would prompt Iranian officials to take a bigger step away from the nuclear deal.

“In the world of politics, all developments are interconnected,” Mousavi said.

In Iraq, where the airstrike has been denounced as a violation of the country’s sovereignty, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said that the government has two choices: End the presence of foreign troops or restrict their mission to training Iraqi forces. He called for the first option.

The majority of about 180 legislators present in Parliament voted in favor of the troop-removal resolution. It was backed by most Shiite members of Parliament, who hold a majority of seats. Many Sunni and Kurdish legislators did not show up for the session, apparently because they oppose abolishing the deal.

A U.S. pullout could not only undermine the fight against the Islamic State but could also enable Iran to increase its influence in Iraq, which like Iran is a majority-Shiite country.

Soleimani’s killing has escalated the crisis between Tehran and Washington after months of back-and-forth attacks and threats that have put the wider Middle East on edge. Iran has promised “harsh revenge” for the U.S. attack, while Trump has vowed on Twitter that the U.S. will strike back at 52 targets “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. ”

The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia warned Americans “of the heightened risk of missile and drone attacks.” In Lebanon, the leader of the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah said Soleimani’s killing made U.S. military bases, warships and service members across the region fair game for attacks. A former Iranian Revolutionary Guard leader suggested the Israeli city of Haifa and centers like Tel Aviv could be targeted should the U.S. attack Iran.

Iranian state TV estimated that millions of mourners came out in Ahvaz and Mashhad to pay their respects to Soleimani.

The casket moved slowly through streets choked with mourners wearing black, beating their chests and carrying posters with Soleimani’s portrait. Demonstrators also carried red Shiite flags, which traditionally symbolize both the spilled blood of someone unjustly killed and a call for vengeance.

The processions marked the first time Iran honored a single man with a multi-city ceremony. Not even Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who founded the Islamic Republic, received such a processional with his death in 1989. Soleimani on Monday will lie in state at Tehran’s famed Musalla mosque as the revolutionary leader did before him.

Soleimani’s remains will go to Tehran and Qom on Monday for public mourning processions. He will be buried in his hometown of Kerman.

Spanish Fork implements suicide prevention efforts as part of citywide wellness initiative

It’s late at night, and Spanish Fork city’s wellness coordinator Susan Chapman gets a phone call. On the other line is someone telling her news of another tragic loss in her community — death by suicide. This time, it’s a teen boy. Her thoughts immediately turn to the family, and she goes into action calling friends — friends who know all-too-well what it is like to lose a son this way.

Chapman puts a care package together, drives to pick up her friends, and together they head over to meet the family of the loved one lost. Inside the home, words are spoken, tears are shed and hearts are joined in tragedy as they each lift each other up toward healing.

The experience is part of Spanish Fork city’s wellness initiative that includes mental health and suicide prevention.

The initiative came about in 2015 when the city applied for a grant from the Utah League of Cities and Towns in conjunction with Intermountain Healthcare. The grant would be for $225,000, with applicants being required to show how they’d use the funds to promote active and healthy living within their communities. Councilmember Mike Mendenhall was the first to hear about the grant as a member of the league, and wanted to expand the city’s focus to mental health.

This focus, according to city officials, came after a member of the Youth City Council died by suicide.

Upon hearing of the teen’s passing, Mendenhall, who served as the City Council representative to the Youth City Council, realized that there was more to community health than just the physical component — there was a significant need to address mental health in the community.

“We realized that there was a very serious problem in our community, and that the cavalry wasn’t coming, so we needed to be proactive in addressing it,” Mendenhall said. “We recognize that suicide prevention typically isn’t the role of the city; however, we feel that significant problems require unique solutions, and that suicide prevention needs to be addressed more broadly — it needs to be a combined effort throughout the community.”

With the help of Chapman in writing the grant, a mental component was added, and Spanish Fork was awarded the funds. The city also received an additional $10,000 grant through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for suicide prevention.

According to Chapman, when implementing a mental health/suicide prevention component, the city wanted to make sure that it used only proven methods of help.

“Suicide is something that is affecting more and more everyday, and there are so many people and organized efforts to try to combat this issue,” Chapman said. “While all are well-intended and are helping many, we as a city felt it was important to do our research to see what is really working to save lives.”

After much research, the city narrowed its approach to suicide prevention to five proven ways that include:

1. Coordinate suicide prevention efforts through a coalition: Working within organizations to form support groups.

2. Implement gatekeeper trainings: Provide trainings to school officials, hospitals, businesses and individuals on how to reduce suicidal behaviors and save lives. These trainings include, QPR (Question. Persuade. Refer.); CALM (Counseling on Access to Lethal Means); and Working Minds (Suicide Prevention in the Workplace).

3. Reduce lethal means access: Educating people on responsible gun and weapon use, and providing ways to do that (i.e., gun locks at the local library).

4. Increase broad postvention efforts including response local reporting and survivor support: Working on actions taken after a suicide occurs to reduce the contagion effect, and giving support to survivors of loved ones lost.

5. Reduce barriers to care: Educating those struggling with suicidal thoughts and tendencies on where to go for help.

While these prevention strategies have been in place for a few years, Chapman said the city has been working hard lately to get the word out to the public. In January of 2019, Spanish Fork put out media campaigns at local theaters, online, via its cable network, and social media about responsible gun use. One video showed an older gentleman at a gun range talking about a time when he was struggling with depression. He spoke to the audience about friends of his who were concerned about his access to lethal means who asked if they could hold on to his firearms until things turned around. He ended with, “I think they saved my life.”

According to officials, the ad showed 3,500 times in theaters over a 14-week period, and was viewed online 71,479 times with a completion rate of 88%. Chapman said it isn’t about putting on restrictions, but teaching responsible weapon ownership.

“In our research, we found that the No. 1 suicide prevention strategy was reducing lethal means,” Chapman said. “We wanted to get the message out, but in a way that was informative and not attacking. We approached gun owners as well as an NRA representative, and found that most people who own guns are passionate about safe gun ownership. We made sure the focus of reducing lethal means was not about putting on restrictions, but teaching responsibility.”

Through providing trainings, educating the public on how to approach individuals struggling, informing people where to go for help, and providing support in the instances where suicide is completed, city officials have said they have seen a positive change and impact in the community.

“We are strengthening support locally for those who experience loss due to suicide,” Chapman said. “We have trained many people, dispelled many myths and had lots of conversations. We’ve had people return after our QPR trainings and say, ‘I believe my son is alive because I attended one of your trainings,’ or ‘We now talk openly about my sister’s depression and she is more connected to the family because of the training.’ We have had people leave the training and actually use the skills they learned of how to save someone’s life that very night. This is a work of hope.”

While the numbers have shown a slight decline in recent years, according to IBIS statistics, Chapman said that the work being done now is about saving future generations.

“My hope is to work deep, and focus on upstream prevention, which are protective and risk factors of youth,” she said. “It will take about 10 years to see outcomes, but is very effective and impactful. If we address these factors while focussing on immediate prevention and intervention, you can save a group of even younger youth from being as likely as needing the same crisis interventions.”

To know more about what the Spanish Fork is doing with its wellness initiative, go to the Spanish Fork Active and Healthy Community Facebook group.