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Silver Valley Sports: How the Silver Valley became a wrestling hotbed

by JOSH McDONALD
Local Editor | November 14, 2023 1:00 AM

It’s no secret that wrestling has become one of the most popular sports in the United States. 

World competitions, the Olympics, and the continued growth in popularity of mixed martial arts, wrestling has found a foothold in the athletic world. 

But where does it begin? 

At what point does a young child decide that they want to commit themselves to the hours of sweat, blood, and tears that it takes to become a wrestler?

Travis Berti has been officially coaching wrestling for over a decade, including high school and middle school as well as the younger club levels – and it’s at this club level where it’s easiest to see how that commitment is nurtured and grown. 

The Silver Valley Wrestling Club (SVW) was named the largest club wrestling team in the country by USA Wrestling just a few short weeks ago. With more than 150 members, SVW is outpacing clubs from places like Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Kansas City. 

The club was founded in the early 80s by Dan Harrison and over the years it’s changed leadership while consistently producing top-level wrestlers who have gone on to win state championships. 

When Berti began helping James Bush coach the club in 2008, they were looking for something that would bring more consistency to the club as well as help it continue to grow. 

Now, as the club’s president, Berti has made it a priority to make sure that the program is always in a position to welcome new kids into the fold. 

“We saw continuous growth throughout the years with it really starting to boom in the past six to eight,” Berti said. “This timing coincided with the change from the Kellogg Wrestling Club to the Silver Valley Wrestling Club as well as the growth in women's wrestling. With Wallace joining with the Kellogg teams it seemed it was time to move to a broader club name that represented the entire valley rather than just ‘Kellogg Wrestling Club.’ We changed the entire branding of the club and went from purple and gold uniforms to black and gold, again with the entire inclusion of the valley in mind.”

SVW features grapplers from Cataldo to Mullan, ages 4 to 14, boys and girls – and even high schoolers when the high school team is out of season. 

Over the past five years, the addition of women’s divisions and women’s tournaments has helped the sport grow even quicker. 

The physical nature of the sport can attract or deter people from getting their children involved, but the Silver Valley’s wrestling community has put full faith in Berti and the other coaches to make sure that their kids are coached safely and thoroughly. Berti has also made sure to follow Bush’s lead and keep wrestling as fun as possible for the kids that come out. 

“James also really did a good job of making it fun,” Berti said. “Wrestling isn’t always known as the sport that is ‘fun’ and often gets categorized as more of a grind. However, if a sport is fun, you are obviously going to get more kids out.”

The wrestling community in and of itself is one of the more unique groups in youth and high school athletics. Many of them will tell you that the long days on the road, and in the gyms at the various tournaments create a bond that isn’t easily broken. It also creates a familiarity between families and friends. 

As a USA Wrestling member, SVW relies on a group of parent volunteers and secretaries to make sure that each child and coach is properly registered for participation, this includes membership cards, team gear and uniforms, volunteer organization, pictures, weigh-ins and tournament entries.  

With more than 150 kids and anywhere from 10 to 15 coaches on a given night, that can be quite the workload. 

“Jody Scribner did an incredible job for years and then passed the torch to Shaneila O’Neill who has been the full-time secretary for the past few full seasons,” Berti said. “Without our secretaries, it would be impossible to grow numbers and have any resemblance of organization. In addition to our secretary, we have a number of moms who assist Shaneila with all of the duties. Similar to the coaches, it is difficult to name them all without risking leaving someone out, but they are essential to the success of the program.”

Former Kellogg High School standout and state champion Preston O’Neill is the program's current head coach – he brings a level of experience, toughness, and just enough fatherly support that makes it easy to see why the program has grown to its current size. 

From the outside looking in, wrestling seems like a sport that is almost exclusively physical in nature, but that couldn’t be further from reality. Sure, there are moments where physicality is the driving force, but the mental aspect of wrestling teaches kids far more about themselves than anyone could imagine. 

“I am probably a little biased but I believe wrestling is the best sport to get kids into at a young age,” Berti said. “The gains you see mentally might be the greatest attributes that can be gained through wrestling. It allows for the development of mental toughness at a young age along with personal responsibility, work ethic, resilience, discipline and accountability, and individuality. When you put a four or five-year-old kid out there and he or she learns that they are responsible for his or her own successes or failures, you tend to see growth very quickly.”

Above all else, Berti is just thankful to be a part of it all. As a wrestler himself, he benefitted from SVW. When he saw the opportunity to get back involved, he recognized that he was repeating what someone else had done for him all those years ago. 

“I just think it is incredible that at least at one point during this season we had the largest club in the country. To be able to pull that off with our limited population, facilities, and resources, it is truly remarkable to have in the Silver Valley,” Berti said. “It shows how important volunteers are and true leaders who are passionate about our local youth. We are incredibly lucky to have the community members we do that are willing to give the time and effort it takes to run and coach this program.”

You never know, but there’s a pretty good chance that the person who will be guiding the program 20 years from now is one of its current members.

For more information, visit Silver Valley Wrestling Club on Facebook.