Show­ing strength

Sport ris­ing in pop­u­lar­ity in state

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NOT THE NORM SPORTS - STORY BY SCOT­TIE BORDELON Scot­tie Bordelon can be reached at sbor­de­ or on Twit­ter @nwas­cot­tie.

ALMA — In­side one of Arkansas’ most pris­tine high school bas­ket­ball are­nas, ath­letes from as far away as Pig­gott and Ri­son pre­pare body and mind in an aux­il­iary weight room. More than 400 ath­letes from more than 50 Arkansas schools gath­ered in April to com­pete in the state high school powerlifting cham­pi­onships. Schools from Class 2A to 7A com­peted in the event. The state cham­pi­onships are not sanc­tioned by the Arkansas Ac­tiv­i­ties As­so­ci­a­tion.

For the last three years, Alma has hosted the state cham­pi­onship event. It was held in Rus­sel­lville prior to mov­ing to Alma. Doug Loughridge, the head foot­ball coach at Alma, said his school took over as host in or­der to keep it the event alive. Loughridge be­lieves powerlifting is an as­set to his school’s over­all ath­letic pro­gram.

“Every place I’ve coached I’ve taken teams to the state meet. I had a lot of vested in­ter­est in not see­ing it die,” said Loughridge, who’s won a state weightlift­ing ti­tle at each coach­ing stop.

For­mer Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville foot­ball player David Bazzell, now a well-known in-state me­dia per­son­al­ity, founded the state high school weightlift­ing cham­pi­onships in the early 1990s fol­low­ing a four-year ca­reer with the Ra­zor­backs. Mul­ti­ple at­tempts to reach Bazzell for com­ment in this story were un­suc­cess­ful.

Powerlifting, in the same vein as in­door track, is not sanc­tioned by the AAA, but has be­come an in­te­gral part of off­sea­son foot­ball pro­grams across the state. The “un­writ­ten rule” among coaches is the male com­peti­tors

are part of their school’s foot­ball and off­sea­son weight pro­grams.

Like wrestling, which the AAA added as a sanc­tioned sport in re­cent years, ath­letes of any weight can ex­cel in powerlifting. The classes are grouped by a lifter’s weight. The lifters com­pete in two dif­fer­ent lifts — the bench press and pow­er­clean. Their to­tal weight lifted in those two events are com­bined to de­ter­mine the cham­pi­ons in each weight class.

At Ri­son High School, a Class 2A pro­gram with 30 wins since 2014, foot­ball coach Clay Totty of­ten must put 130-pound play­ers on the field out of ne­ces­sity on Fri­day nights. Powerlifting gives those play­ers the strength needed to com­pete on the field, he said.

“With the weightlift­ing, I’ve seen the con­fi­dence shoot up in my play­ers,” said Totty, who’s team grabbed the 2A powerlifting crown this spring. “It’s some­thing that’s a big deal to us. When you get in the off­sea­son, a com­peti­tor wants to com­pete. Through the years I just saw how it helped guys from a mo­ti­va­tion stand­point. You’ve got some­thing to gauge your­self by.”

This past spring, Green­wood, Alma and Booneville — all long­time suc­cess­ful foot­ball pro­grams — won state weightlift­ing ti­tles in their re­spec­tive clas­si­fi­ca­tions. Green­wood’s John Wo­mack won the heavy­weight in­di­vid­ual ti­tle with a com­bined lift of 770 pounds, in­clud­ing a state record 385-pound rep in the pow­er­clean.

Loughridge and Totty agree there are par­al­lels in suc­cess­ful weight pro­grams and those mak­ing state play­off runs on the foot­ball field.

“You can tell who par­tic­i­pates year in and year out,” Totty said. “At our level and in our area it would be a Junc­tion City, Mount Ida, El Do­rado. To me, it’s a cor­re­la­tion to suc­cess.”

Loughridge said he would wel­come more in­volve­ment from schools in North­west Arkansas. A num­ber of schools, in­clud­ing Ri­son, Hoxie and Junc­tion City, the 2017 class 3A cham­pion, make the 4 to 5 hour drive to Alma an­nu­ally, bar­ring travel re­stric­tions, which Totty’s pro­gram dealt with in 2015 and 2016.

Sched­ul­ing con­flicts, too, can pro­hibit schools from mak­ing the state meet, which en­tails at least six months of ad­vanced plan­ning. Re­gional and state spring tour­na­ments, proms, and even the Ra­zor­backs’ an­nual Red-White spring foot­ball game can be­come ob­sta­cles.

Loughridge be­lieves powerlifting is an ideal match for a suc­cess­ful foot­ball pro­gram, and it’s hard to ar­gue that point since the Airedales won the 5A-West Con­fer­ence ti­tle last fall and are fa­vored again this sea­son. He would also like to see the state’s gov­ern­ing body for ath­let­ics step in to in­clude powerlifting with the other sanc­tioned sports.

“I would like to see it. It’s some­thing for those guys in the off­sea­son to com­pete in,” he said. “It’s some­thing we’ve kind of kept alive.”

Sub­mit­ted photo

Alma High School has hosted the high school state weightlift­ing cham­pi­onships each of the past three years. More than 50 teams and 400 ath­letes com­peted for top hon­ors in 2017.

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