2014-01-08 / Sports

From play to pin

An 11-year-old wrestler makes his mark
By Jim McConnell

Eleven-year-old wrestler Brenden Barnes (right) works for a takedown during a recent workout with Virginia Team Predator in Chester. 
Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer Eleven-year-old wrestler Brenden Barnes (right) works for a takedown during a recent workout with Virginia Team Predator in Chester. Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer Watching his sons’ informal skirmishes in the living room of the family’s Chester home four years ago, Mike Barnes thought he saw some natural wrestling talent in his younger, 7-year-old son, Brenden.

But when Barnes, who had wrestled in high school, first broached the possibility of Brenden joining a local wrestling club, Brenden wasn’t exactly receptive.

Barnes told his son he wanted him to at least give wrestling a try. If he didn’t enjoy it, he could walk away and do something else.

Today, at the ripe age of 11, Brenden Barnes is neck-deep in the sport and loving it.

“I thought it was going to be really tough, but I’m glad my dad made me do it,” he said during an interview last week.

The younger Barnes, a fifth-grader at Curtis Elementary, took to wrestling like a fish to water.

After he progressed quickly during his one year with the Dale Wrestling Club, it was obvious that Brenden needed tougher competition. He found it with Virginia Team Predator, a Chester-based elite club whose wrestlers compete year-round in state and national tournaments.

Led by head coach Mark Strickland, a two-time Virginia Group AAA state champion for Chesapeake’s Great Bridge High School, Team Predator boasts some of the most accomplished youth wrestlers in the mid-Atlantic region.

The focus and discipline required to be successful in wrestling is a perfect fit for the self-motivated Brenden, who has already set a goal of wrestling for the University of Virginia.

“He’s very intense about his wrestling,” Mike Barnes said. “Every year, he keeps wanting more from the sport.”

In addition to regular team practices, Brenden takes private lessons with Strickland at Predator’s facility off Jeff Davis Highway. When he’s not on the mat, he spends hours on the computer, watching video of his matches to identify areas where he needs to improve.

“I’m glad to be wrestling better kids because I learn more,” he said. “Even if I lose, Coach sees what I did and I can work on it so maybe I can beat the kid next time.”

Brenden doesn’t lose often. In 2013, he won his weight class at several high-level tournaments – among them, East Coast Nationals, Rhino Extreme, Final Four Fall Classic and the VAWA National Kids Tournament.

He also placed at the Ohio Tournament of Champions, one of the largest and toughest youth wrestling tournaments in the country.

But he’ll face his greatest challenge yet next week in Oklahoma, when he and two of his Predator teammates – Collin Gerardi and Nick Vafiadis – compete in the prestigious Tulsa Nationals.

More than 2,000 wrestlers from 40 states have entered the tournament, which runs from Jan. 16-18 at the Tulsa Fairgrounds Expo Square Pavilion.

“I’m excited to go and test myself against great competition,” Brenden said. “I want to see how good I really am.”

Mike Barnes also is looking forward to seeing how his son stacks up against the best youth wrestlers in America.

Just four years after he started wrestling, Brenden already has far exceeded anything his father accomplished on the mat.

“He’s really pulled me into this sport and opened my eyes to what it can be,” the elder Barnes said. “As a parent, my job is to make sure he has all the opportunities he needs to keep getting better.”

Return to top