Coach, wrestlers off to Russia
By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
NEW PORT RICHEY -- Travis DeWalt has been to Russia twice before on trips with American wrestling teams, but that doesn't mean he's any less excited about a third trip across the world this week.
"I couldn't really express to the kids how incredible the experience was," said the Gulf High School wrestling coach, who leaves today with eight of his wrestlers for 12 days in eastern Russia. "That trip is something I remember way beyond any textbook I opened in high school or college."
It was back during wrestling season that DeWalt was offered a chance to work as an assistant coach on a trip to Russia, led by his former coach at Westmar College in Iowa. DeWalt had been fortunate enough to take similar trips as a sophomore and senior in college and was thrilled at the chance to return, even more so when he later found out he could bring some of his wrestlers from Gulf.
Eight members of last year's varsity squad, which won a district title and finished second in the nine-team Sunshine Athletic Conference, will be among the Gulf entourage for the 12-day trip: senior Butch Payne, who wrestles at 160 pounds, as well as underclassmen Joey Pospisil (103), Patrick Gallagher (119), Brian Ryder (140), Jordan Stewart (152), Andrew Mendonca (171), Tim Tracy (189) and Fred Liriano (215).
"I hope I can get a lot out of the trip," said Pospisil, a 16-year-old rising junior. "We're going to see a lot of different wrestling styles over there, and it sounds like a lot of fun."
DeWalt can prepare his wrestlers with firsthand experience, and the former state champion and 1990 Gulf graduate said few countries take to wrestling the way Russians do.
"It's equivalent to football here -- it's the premier sport over there," said DeWalt, 30, who had two very different wrestling experiences in his two visits. "Wrestling is it for them. The first time I took some real beatings, because I didn't know what to expect. I think I went 0-8. The second time I was more prepared and had an incredible experience, won six of seven matches."
The wrestlers have been busy in recent months with fundraisers to help cover the cost of the trip, which is about $2,900 per person. The team held car washes during wrestling season, and DeWalt said generous donations were made by local businesses and the Moyer Foundation, based in New Port Richey.
The group will fly today from Orlando to New York, where they'll take a 10-hour flight to Moscow, followed by an eight-hour flight to Vladivostok, which is in the far southeastern corner of Russia. After several days of competition there, they will take the Trans-Siberian railroad to Khabarovsk, where more competition will follow. The final two days are set aside for sightseeing in Moscow.
That's an aspect of the trip that DeWalt is looking forward to as much as the wrestling: the team has plans to visit the Kremlin, Red Square, the Cathedral of St. Basil and Lenin's tomb while in Moscow.
"They're going to walk away from this with a real cultural experience," he said. "What they will have after this will be a lot more than just the wrestling aspect."
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