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Life lessons learned on and off the wrestling mat

Register • Feb 3, 2014 at 10:00 AM

In its second season, with 20 wrestlers on the roster nearing season’s end, the Sandusky Bulldogs program is riding the winds of victory.

Head coach Rocky McKinney and assistant coaches Danny Johnson and Devon Johnson donate their time to share their wrestling knowledge with the next generation of grapplers. With practice on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays — and tournaments on Saturdays and Sundays — it’s an extraordinary investment.

Want to go? 

• WHAT: Sandusky Bulldogs fundraiser “Dine to Make a Difference”

• WHEN: Noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday

• WHERE: Bob Evans, Milan Road in Sandusky

• MORE: All proceeds will help the Sandusky Bulldogs purchase wrestling mats, wall padding and other equipment

• DONATE: Donations can be sent to PO. Box 472, Sandusky, OH 44870. Checks or money orders can be made payable to “Sandusky Bulldogs Wrestling.”


Perhaps a man overqualified for the job, McKinney, a graduate of Sandusky High School who went to Eastern Michigan University on a wrestling scholarship before earning a bachelor’s in education from The Ohio State University, has been a substitute teacher and assistant high school wrestling coach.

“Bulldogs wrestling was established to teach a higher level of wrestling through positive reinforcement,” McKinney said.

Coaches Danny and Devon, who both wrestled at the high school level, are adamant about being positive role models for the young wrestlers.

“We are role models, if we want to be or not,” Danny said. “The kids learn from us, even when we’re not teaching, and I want to give them the positive role model I never had”

Said McKinney: “It’s not the lack of athletic talent that is killing the Sandusky High athletic program.

“For whatever reason, a lot of talent have given up sports by the time they reach high school” McKinney said. “Kids aren’t sticking with it like they used to, which is why we teach commitment and hard work to achieve long-term goals”

Even with the impressive number of wins their wrestlers have racked up, the coaches all agree Bulldogs wrestling is less about winning and losing, and more about youth obtaining moral fortitude and learning life skills.

Upon joining the Bulldogs program, wrestlers and their parents must sign a contract, promising to maintain integrity, respect and positive attitudes on and off the mat. Cussing, un-sportsmanship and bullying are not tolerated.

The wrestlers must also show their grade cards to coaches, and all grades must be satisfactory. Free academic tutoring is offered to those who need help, courtesy of Spirit and Truth Ministries. In the future, the coaches plan to check each wrestler’s mid-term academic performance, as well as ramping up involvement with at-risk youth.

As an open-door program, Bulldogs doesn’t discriminate. All youngsters are welcome to attend practice regardless of their age, school or hometown. Participants don’t even have to represent the Sandusky Bulldogs — they can simply show up and practice with the team three times a week.

For his part, McKinney enjoys passing along his passion for wrestling. He also said he’s thankful for the support community members have shown for the program.

“With us, it’s all about wrestling and positivity,” McKinney said. “If you want to learn, you are welcome. We focus on technicality, physicality, muscle memory and endurance. We drill, drill, drill. Expect to sweat”

Story by Damon Newell

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