Lined with solid maroon-and-white colors and “SPRINGFIELD” plastered in block lettering along each wall — a white punching bag hanging in the back right corner of the room as it always does — the Doug Parker Wrestling Room is primed and ready for yet another arduous evening practice.
The wrestlers who are healthy and able to participate in practice begin their warm-ups, a combination of elegant plyometric work that displays their flexibility with an array of cartwheels and flips, coupled with stretching. Injured athletes sit off to the side on exercise bikes gradually intensifying their speed to stay warm and loose.
The daily build-up of soreness, aches and pains can leave quite the tax on a wrestler’s body. Nevertheless, regardless of those nagging injuries tugging on their mental toughness, each member of the Pride wrestling team walks through the red doors and onto the two maroon mats laid out in the room at least five days a week for five consecutive months. It requires a commitment like no other.
“The toughest aspect of wrestling that not a lot of people understand is the everyday practice struggle,” Chase Parrott, a junior in the 149-pound weight class, said. “Almost every other sport goes into practice and genuinely has fun. You go to soccer practice and it’s fun playing soccer with the guys. You go to lacrosse and you run up and down the field throwing the ball with your teammates.
“I’m not necessarily saying that their sports are easy, but when it comes to wrestling practice it’s really just a grind. It’s a fight to see how hard you can hit each other and pick each other up, how many times you can get slammed and get back up. Everyday practice is so grueling on your body, both mentally and physically.”
Following 30 minutes of warm-up, Pride head coach Jason Holder meanders his way through the double doors adjacent to his office — which holds trophies, calendars with important dates, and the depth chart of this year’s roster — and into the wrestling room. He captivates the room with his booming voice, which bounces off the walls as his team listens intently. Aside from teaching them skills, Holder also sprinkles in life lessons during his practice sessions.
“We try to teach them how to be resilient and disciplined with their training,” Holder said. “When they become consistent with that, you can rely on them and they begin to rely on each other. They then develop leadership qualities that become helpful later on when they leave the program, and that’s sort of the goal. My job is to teach positive life lessons through the sport of wrestling that are going to carry over to their careers.”
For the next hour and a half, the labor-intensive practice plays out under Holder’s command. An hour and a half of nonstop moving, nonstop slamming between partners seeking to work out kinks before the tournament, nonstop full-speed drills designed to make the athletes lose as much sweat as possible. It’s a race to see who can sweat the most, who can lose the most weight. The reward is the ability to replenish their bodies with a sufficient amount of nutrition succeeding their intense practices. The more they sweat, the more they can eat.
Managing weight is a struggle. Typically wrestlers will walk around roughly 10 pounds above their weight class at the beginning of the week, having to shed that before the time comes to step on the scale for tournament weigh-in just hours before their first match. For Parrott, mental toughness is the key to remaining disciplined when managing his weight. It sounds simple, but it’s not.
“The whole lifestyle of wrestling is really draining on your health. Mentally, emotionally and physically,” Parrott said. “You’re constantly working out and practicing every day. And when you’re not, you’re still thinking about it. You’re not eating as much because you’re trying to get the weight off all while maintaining good grades and staying level-headed in the classroom. It’s tough to juggle, but you have to have a lot of willpower and learn to be mentally tough. It’s instilled in wrestlers at a young age.”
At Westhill High School in Stamford, Conn., Parrott saw plenty of success on the mat. He was a two-time state finalist (junior year in the 120 weight class, senior year at 132) and received a great deal of attention from collegiate coaches at the Division III level. Cutting weight, however, wasn’t a priority at the time, as high school coaches focus more on developing skills than they do managing their wrestlers’ weights.
“During high school, weight cutting is not a big factor at all,” Parrott said. “As you get into collegiate wrestling, kids cut 10-15 pounds per week. It really begins to have a toll on their mental health and stress.”
In his second season as an assistant coach for Springfield College, 26-year old Pankil Chander adds a spark and boost of energy to the team as a young coach who has experience both on the mat and as a leader. After coaching stints with Bloomsburg University and Gettysburg College, Chander found his way to Alden Street in pursuit of his Master’s degree in athletic administration. He was a NWCA Scholar All-American and a four-year starter at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania.
Because he too struggled with weight management throughout college, Chander can relate to the challenges his wrestlers face.
“[Those struggles] were a lifestyle shift for me,” he said. “There was a point where I just started struggling with school, going through the days and everything else. I was just hungry all the time, and it began affecting my mood. I figured out a system and applied it, and in some respects, I feel like it was life-changing. Even how I make decisions now with how I train and what I eat is much better because of those weight cuts.”
Considering Chander has experienced difficult encounters, he now appreciates and understands the process in a healthier form, and advises his wrestler’s proper techniques to go about “cutting weight” throughout each week.
“Physiologically, there are things that managing weight and a caloric deficit does to your mind and body that are hard to get around,” Chander said. “No matter how well you manage your weight, there are some points where you have to suck it up. We have systems in place that try to eradicate those things and make it easy for them, and there is always a learning curve in the process with each athlete. We try to manage each athlete differently depending on their weight cutting routines.”
Now in his 11th season, Holder once again has the Pride off to a red-hot start, winning each of their first three dual meets by at least nine points. Since Holder took control of the program in 2011, his teams have sustained great success, posting a winning dual meet record in all but one of his seasons at the helm. He was named the Division III Northeast co-Coach of the Year after ushering his team to a successful 17-5 record in 2020, a season where the Pride also had the sixth-best overall team grade point average in the entire country.
Holder, now 43, was a three-time New Hampshire state champion at Timberlane High School. He went on to earn a starting spot at Division I Boston University for four consecutive years, and understands the rugged, relentless nature of the sport — and the rewards that come with it both on and off the mat.
“You’re going to be sore. You’re going to have some aches and pains,” Holder said. “Once you get a good, solid warm-up, you try to forget about it. You have to block the soreness out, and it’s easier said than done. In wrestling, you’re almost training to do that. You force your body to push through some pretty tough situations. If it’s an important match, guys push through it. It’s an important part of life, pushing through.”
Photo: Lucy Hamilton/The Student