When Kirk Spencer died so suddenly from a heart attack in 2004, it might have been expected that his West Linn Wrestling Club would flounder or even fade away.

Instead, the club, now renamed in Spencer's honor as the Kirk Spencer Mat Club, is stronger than ever.

Not only has its membership risen to about 60 young wrestlers, but there are expansion plans on the horizon, including hosting an invitational tournament and a summer wrestling camp.

One reason the club kept going so strongly was the memory of Spencer.

'Kirk was a very important part of both football and wrestling for youth in West Linn,' said Tim Bell, one of three mat club coaches. 'Many kids, their siblings and parents felt emotionally attached to anything that Kirk was involved in.'

There has also been outstanding leadership from coaches.

'We've grown by 15 to 20 kids a year,' said Joe Taylor. 'We expect more growth.'

A big factor in the team's successful 2008 season was a new coach, Chet McBee. Taylor handles the advanced group, Bell coaches the beginners, and McBee trains in techniques.

'Chet is a great coach,' praised Taylor. 'He's a former wrestler from the University of Oregon. Our kids loved him. They had a lot of great success because of him. A lot of kids won a lot of tournaments.'

The coaches can demand dedication from their wrestlers because they have so much themselves.

Bell's time dedicated to the club includes 'three days a week, two hours a night for practice, and practically all day Saturday for tournaments. Countless meetings and brief conversations.'

That doesn't even count the recruiting for the club, which is a yearlong activity.

Still, while Taylor, Bell and McBee have been dedicated and skillful, they believe the young men - ranging in age from 5 to 14 - are pretty special to begin with.

'Wrestling can be intimidating at times,' Taylor said. 'It takes a brave kid to get out there by himself in front of a large crowd.'

This pays off in something the coaches believe is of utmost importance - sportsmanship.

'Most people believe wrestling is violent, but it is quite the contrary,' Bell said. 'The ability to control your emotions is paramount. Win, lose or draw you must keep your composure and respect your coaches, opponent and referee.'

'Wrestling breeds sportsmanship,' Taylor said. 'It has a strong sense of community and brotherhood, which is something I love about it.'

The Spencer Club kids finished their 2007-08 on a high note by qualifying 10 wrestlers for the Northwest Junior Collegiate Wrestling Championship in February. Chandler Miller took the championship in his division, while Jacob Taylor took second. Emerson Miller placed sixth. Others competing were Thomas Theide, Gus Becker, Zeb Becker, Amir-Ali Sharffi, Joey Donovan, Bret Bell, and Michael Stell.

The club took note of its fine season at their banquet, for which Taylor gave a presentation. But complacency is not part of their style.

The club will hold its own tournament, in conjunction with a tournament held by the successful varsity team at West Linn High School. A wrestling camp is planned for this summer.

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