Former Northgate wrestler: 'Exchange' program rates high with Schenk
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
It’s not often that one spends as much as $2,500 on a vacation to take a few lumps. At least one outside Las Vegas.
But for Chris Schenk, a chance to compete with some of eastern Europe’s top wrestlers over 10 days was too good for the former state runner-up from Northgate High, now a junior 174-pound standout for Norwich (Vt.) University, to pass up.
“It was a great opportunity for me,” said Schenk, who used his own savings to pay for the trip. “My parents felt the same way. But they said they couldn’t help me. Wrestling means the world to me. It gave me a chance to go to military college. It has not only kept me in shape, it’s helped prepare me more for life after wrestling. I probably still went to college, but I know I wouldn’t have been as disciplined. It’s changed my outlook on life. Being so far away from home, the team became my family.”
The trip, which was led by University of Wisconsin-Whitewater coach Tim Fader joined Schenk and sophomore teammate Alex Stewart with four other Division III athletes. The group toured Bulgaria and Romania among an itinerary that included some sightseeing on top of workouts and competition. The trip began with a visit to Bucarest and workouts with Romania’s Junior National Team.
Traveling out of the country for the first time, Schenk found both work and pleasure exhilarating, at one point of the trip going toe-to-toe with a top-three Romanian national finalist in an Olympic-style tournament and at another, working out in Bulgaria on the beaches of the Black Sea.
“We were working out on a beach by the Black Sea and we got a chance to do some swimming,” he said. “It was phenomenal.”
Schenk said he not only learned from his competition, but his co-travelers, many of which are now conference rivals.
“I knew Alex, of course, from school, but when you spend ten days together traveling and working out, you really got to know all of the guys so well,” Schenk said of Exchange members that included Jared Myhrberg of SUNY-Cortland, a third-place finisher at the NCAA championships. “To compete overseas, I may not ever get a chance like this again. I wanted to make the most of it, and I felt like I did. I didn’t win a whole lot of matches, but by the end of the trip the guys were telling me how much improvement I had made.”
Making the transition from tradition American folkstyle wrestling to both freestyle and Greco-Roman gave Schenk an opportunity to work on his technique, specifically on the top-half of his body in Greco-Roman, which forbids holds and takedowns by tripping. The end result provides more of an emphasis on throws.
“I got better on the top. My thing is (being) down (on the mat). It teaches you to finish your shots better,” he said. “But I was able to do a throw on one of my opponents and I pinned the kid in the second period,” Schenk said. “It surprised me cause I’m not a thrower. My first match I was losing to guys, 6-0, 6-0 each period, but my last two (losses) were 5-4 and 4-3. It’s not that different from freestyle, it takes small adjustments. I’m hoping that I can take some of the things I’ve learned and use it next season.”
The exchange program was almost identical to one that 2008 East Coweta Class AAAAA state champion Christian Flavin took last year to Turkey. Flavin is now a coach at Wrestling U in Peachtree City, where Schenk has also worked out with a pair of GHSA state champions, former Viking teammate Tyler Askey — a three-time winner — and Alexander High’s Ethan Blackstock.
“I got humbled every day,” he said.
Schenk was among a talented group of seventh graders that was able to wrestle in a middle school program set up by Northgate veteran coach Adrian Anderson and continued through a highly successful senior year for the Vikings in 2009-10. The group included Kyle Hennen, who now referees varsity matches for the GHSA, and Schenk’s sparring partner Jeffrey Higgins, who was invited to join his corner for Schenk’s Class AAAA state championship match at 160 pounds.
“He made me so much better as a wrestler,” said Schenk of Higgins, before adding of his former high school coach, “Coach Anderson prepared me for life. He taught me so much.”
While Schenk still has two years of eligibility left at the military college, the country’s first, and is already looking beyond receiving his class ring, one of the university’s longest standing traditions. He plans to enlist in the Navy with hopes of becoming a Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician.
“I’m ready for it,” he said of a job that was the emphasis the Oscar-winning film “The Hurt Locker,” involving an Army EOD team in Iraq.