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All-girls wrestling team forming at Bruisers mat club

• Benwood facility ready to open

PICTURED INSIDE the Bruisers Youth Wrestling Club in Benwood are, from left, Zander Ward, Chris Ward, Milo Ward, Joe Giovengo and Eli Ward. Chris Ward and Giovengo are co-owners of the facility that is open to wrestlers of all ages across the Ohio Valley.

BENWOOD — What is the fastest growing sport across the nation?

If you answered girls wrestling, you’re exactly right.

According to statistics, there are more than 20,000 girls involved in high school wrestling. There are 23 states that have sanctioned state championships. Ohio and West Virginia both held inaugural state tournaments last winter, but neither were affiliated with the Ohio High School Athletic Association nor the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission.

Due to the increasing number of females, an Ohio Valley group is starting an all-girls wrestling team.

The Bruisers Youth Wrestling Club, formed by Joe Giovengo and Chris Ward, made the announcement recently. The duo, which have extensive wrestling backgrounds, have purchased the former Benwood Firemen’s Hall and transformed it into 3,000 square feet of wrestling mats.

“Girls wrestling is the fastest growing sport in the United States,” Giovengo said. “I just listened to Dan Gable talk and he said they heard from the Olympic committee that if there wasn’t going to be girls wrestling there wouldn’t be any wrestling in the Olympics.

“Some females come out for these youth teams and get roughed up and there’s people out there that don’t like girls competing against boys, so we saw an opportunity and we’re going to run with it,” he added.

It’s called valkyrie. According to Wikipedia, in Norse mythology, a valkyrie is one of a host of female figures who choose those who may die in battle and those who may live.

“When the masculinity of the male outmuscles the female they need a place to go and this is it,” Ward, a former two-time OVAC and one-time West Virginia state champion, said. “Hopefully they come here and help us build. There are some pretty tough girls out there that we’ve seen in just their first or second year of wrestling that we would like to get the opportunity to work with.

“There are so many tournaments that have girls-only brackets,” he continued. “Once the word gets out that there are state tournaments for girls in West Virginia, maybe that will bring out one more girl and she will bring a friend or two.”

Ward said the Mountain State has state tournaments at three levels for girls — youth, middle school and high school.

“We had 20-25 girls in our novice league last year that came from a 10-minute radius of here, so we know the talent is out there,” Ward continued. “They just need a place to show what they can do, and we hope this is it.”

The name Bruisers means a lot to Giovengo.

“My dad (Tom Sr.) started the Benwood Bruisers Wrestling Club in 1979 with Emil Nardone at Union Junior High School. It was there for years and got passed on to some other friends and relatives. My brother had it and we practiced over at St. John’s School, but it burned down,” Giovengo reflected back. “I then had it for a couple of years and we actually rented this room off of the Benwood Fire Department. It was hard to hold anything together because at that time the numbers were dwindling. We finally said there is no sense in doing this. They’ve got a team right down the road in Glen Dale, let’s go down there. There’s no sense fighting this battle.”

That was then. They’re back now.

“Well, with the drive Chris has he’s constantly pushing to do things. We wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for him. He keeps me busy with his vision of what we can do here,” Giovengo allowed.

After about a year-and-a-half to two years of looking for a place they finally found a home.

“This place came up for sale and the pair ‘took the plunge,” Giovengo said with a laugh. “We wanted to keep the Bruisers name but we really didn’t want to keep Benwood in the name because we didn’t want to exclude any kids from other towns around the Ohio Valley thinking it’s just for kids from Benwood. It’s for anyone who wants to come out.”

Due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the opening of the facility is up in the air.

“We’re ready to go. The kids are ready to go,” Giovengo stressed. “Our opening out of our hands right now. That’s up to the governor.”

When they get the OK, Giovengo said they will most likely be open five days a week. Two of those will be dedicated to males and two for females. One day will be for both.

“This will be about my 40th year being involved in wrestling and I know Chris isn’t that far behind me. He’s a little younger than I am. He’s been the coach of the Glen Dale Monarchs for close to 10 years. I’ve coached youth. I’ve coached at (The) Linsly (School) at the middle school and high school levels.

“We want to see wrestling grow. It’s starting to grow a little again,” Giovengo said. “I think it had its glory days in the late 1980s and through the 1990s, then the quality fell off a little bit, I think. “It’s starting to come back as you can see by what the Wheeling Parks, the Parkersburg Souths and the Beaver Locals are doing, and have been doing for sometime.”

When Ward took over the Monarchs in 2010 he only had about 15 kids.

“He’s a leader. He puts a lot of work in and busts his butt. He has a lot of enthusiasm and loves the sport as much as I do,” Giovengo said of his good friend.

“We started the Ohio Valley Wrestling League several years ago. It’s a novice league based out of John Marshall High School’s fieldhouse,” Ward said. “It’s about an 8-week program. There’s four little meets and then a season-ending tournament.”

Teams include Ohio County, St. Clairsville, Martins Ferry, Tyler Consolidated, Shadyside, Bellaire and Barnesville.

“It’s mostly for first-, second- and third-year wrestlers. Mostly beginners,” Ward explained. “Last year we had 280 kids in the league and it’s growing every year. That’s a good thing that it’s on the growing side, but what happens is you get so many beginners that the more experienced kids are getting stuck practicing at the beginner level.

“We had looked for some time, talked about it and even dreamed about getting a place where we could get the advanced wrestlers and separate them to get them more advanced skills sooner,” he continued. “By the time they get to middle school and then high school they are really well-versed in freestyle and really tough competition.

“Getting kids from around the Ohio Valley on their off days together is only going to make everybody better in the long run,” he noted.

Anybody is welcome. From beginner to high school kids.

Giovengo said they are planning on having some coaches and clinicians from West Virginia University. They also have a couple of well-known names already committed to speak and demonstrate in former WVU wrestler and current Fairmont State head coach, Zeke Mosiey, along with Roman Bravo Young, a rising junior-to-be at Penn State.

The hall will also be open for other events, as well.

“If someone wants to have a birthday party, graduation party, wedding shower, baby shower, etc., we’ll pick up the mats and put down some tables and chairs,” Giovengo said. “It will seat about 250 people. This is for the community, as well. This isn’t going to be a retirement plan for either one of us.”

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