A hard-core group of 150 aspiring high school grapplers turned out for seven days of extreme training that rivals what the elite ranks of Navy Seals and Green Berets endure.
It all began in Payson yesterday, July 8, and will continue until July 13 during the Sixth Annual Arizona High Altitude Intensive Wrestling Camp.
Camp instructors, including former Payson High coaches Casey Woodall and Travis Koppenhafer, call the camp “unlike anything a high school wrestler has experienced” and “one of the highest quality camps anywhere.”
Coaches also promise the campers will be pushed to become the best wrestler they can be through a one-on-one structured environment in an atmosphere of high level training and technique.
A typical day begins at 6 a.m. with breakfast and is followed throughout the morning and mid-day with three technique sessions on such skills as hand fights, tilts and turns, and front head locks.
In the sessions, campers are aligned into small groups for better individual instruction.
About 4 p.m., intensive practices begin under the supervision of more than 28 top-notch coaches, all with extensive collegiate experience. After a 5:30 p.m. dinner, the campers return to the Wilson Dome wrestling room for 1-1/2 hours of live matches.
Woodall and Koppenhafer contend, the live matches “are essential to gain the experience needed to be a champion.”
Over the course of the week, each wrestler will participate in a minimum of 10 live matches.
Lights out each day is at 10 p.m.
A tradition since the original camp is a one-day hike in and out of Fossil Creek, a round trip of about eight miles, and while there, a swim in the pristine falls.
“The trip is not only a workout, but allows a great time for team bonding and an experience every wrestler will take with them,” said Woodall.
During the campers’ stay in Payson, the PHS campus is their home away from home.
For the camp, they were told to bring a sleeping bag, pillow and air mattress or cot, if so desired.
Their meals are being served in the PHS cafeteria.
Former camper, Mark Mabry, a two-time state champion at Benson, told coaches following the fifth annual camp, “I have improved dramatically over the summer thanks to the camp. Definitely the best camp I have been to.”
Quality, highly acknowledged coaches might be what separates the High Altitude Intensive Camp from hundreds around the country.
Headlining the staff this year are three-time NCAA 125-pound All American Anthony Robles and four-time Pac-10 149-pound wrestling champion Eric Larkin, both of Arizona State.
The two are now assistant coaches with the Sun Devils.
Also on the staff are two former Longhorn standout wrestlers, Nate Lee and Zach Lee, who after graduating from PHS went on to earn collegiate wrestling honors.
Nate Lee, a four-time state champion at PHS, attended Boise State where he was a three-time Division I NCAA qualifier. Currently he is serving as an assistant coach at the University of Northern Colorado.
Zach Lee was a high school All-American and at Western State in Colorado was a two-time Division III All American. He has worked as an assistant coach at Jamestown College and also with the PHS program.
Former Payson High School coach Dave LaMotte — who has been enshrined in the Ohio Coaches Hall of Fame — will also work the camp.
Koppenhafer was a three-time Division II All American at Adams State University and Woodall, who resigned last month at PHS to return to his hometown of Morenci, was a two-time All American at Adams State.