Most of the 850 wrestlers gathered to grapple at Wasilla's Menard Sports Complex for this week's Alaska USA Wrestling State Tournament in Wasilla are kids, some as young as 5.
So when 36-year-old Westley Bockert took to the mat for a match Thursday, he might have looked a little out of place.
"I'm just doing it to release some energy," Bockert said. "Most of these guys will have the advantage."
Bockert, who said he is the oldest competitor in the tournament, wrestled in an open division designated for athletes 18 and older who are no longer in high school. Weighing in at 214 pounds, he wrestled in the heavyweight division and managed to win one of his two folkstyle matches.
Not only are Bockert's opponents younger, but most of them are also more accustomed than he is to folkstyle wrestling, the method used in high school and college. Bockert spent the bulk of his mat time competing for the Army as a Greco-Roman wrestler, a style that forbids holds below the waist.
"Greco is the one I love," Bockert said.
Wrestlers will compete in the Greco-Roman style Friday when the tournament continues at 9 a.m. That's also when the youngest kids in a pre-bantam division as well as a girls tournament will join the action, adding to a wall-to-wall wrestling extravaganza that uses ten mats simultaneously.
By the time the tournament ends Saturday, titles will be awarded in folkstyle, Greco-Roman and freestyle. Some of the top wrestlers will shoot for a prestigious triple crown by competing in all three divisions.
Bockert had no design on such an accomplishment, but he was eager to make a good showing for the old guys.
"Nobody at this age wants to be put on their backs," he said.
Bockert competed in the tournament as recently as three years ago, but his competitive career with the Army ended nearly a decade ago.
Stationed in Fairbanks since 2000, he has enjoyed being part of the wrestling community as a coach at Lathrop High, but his time in Alaska is nearly finished. Bockert recently returned from a year-long deployment to Afghanistan and is getting ready for a new assignment in South Carolina.
Bockert, who coaches the Interior Youth Wrestling team, said the annual USA Wrestling Tournament is an event he'll miss. He said it's one of the things that make Alaska wrestling great.
"This state has a pretty good group of parents," he said. "It's usually the same families and same coaches at each event, so you can't be disrespectful and rude because you know you are going to see the same people next weekend."
The event is ideal for kids who are looking to learn the sport in a fun atmosphere while still experiencing the thrill of competition, Bockert said. His 12-year-old son, Westley Bockert Jr., was among the competitors Thursday.
"They've made it so big and impressive, the kid realizes they are in a pretty big show," Bockert said.
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS
Anchorage Daily News