FEATURE USOEC star Harry Lester looks to make impact internationally this year

By Gary Abbott | Nov. 19, 2005, 12 a.m. (ET)
When you think of the sport of wrestling, the state of Mississippi does not come to mind. In fact, Mississippi is one of the two states that do not have a high school state championship and Mississippi does not have any college wrestling teams.

That may change in the future if Bob Kranz, USA Wrestling's state chairperson and Todd Spataro, founder of the Rankin County Wrestling Club in Brandon, Mississippi have anything to say about it.

"If we are going to get wrestling established as a sport in Mississippi, we have to start at the grassroots level," said Kranz. "Wrestling is the sixth most popular sport in U.S. high schools and many community residents who move in from out of state are shocked to find that their young grapplers have nowhere to train and compete. Wrestling for grade and middle school students is a popular sport that grows every year. Young boys and girls engage in the sport all over the U.S. and now they will be able to find a training club in Mississippi."

At this date, coach Spataro has about 10 youth wrestlers in his club in Northwest Rankin High School. They practice in the Performance Arts Center on Monday and Thursday 6:30 - 8:00pm. Their website is:

Coach Todd Spataro was a high school wrestler and loved the sport. He had an opportunity to introduce his young son to wrestling in a USA Wrestling club at North Bossier, Louisiana. As a kindergartner, his son was not doing well academically, but he excelled in the sport, winning his age group championship in his first year of competition.

Upon moving to Mississippi to advance his medical career, Spataro found that his family's passion for wrestling had no outlet. Noting that his son's school work had improved so much after he found discipline and success in wrestling, Coach Spataro was determined not to let the lack of wrestling opportunities in Mississippi prevent him from having a club. He decided that the only course of action was to start a club himself.

"I owed so much to wrestling, that I was determined to start a club to help my son and the youth of Mississippi," said Spataro

After being turned down by two local YMCAs, Jackson Academy, several other local schools, and a gymnastics facility, Spataro found a home for the club. Jean Massey, the Principal of Northwest Rankin High School, helped Todd establish a practice site at his school. Spataro purchased a mat out of his family's savings and registered as a USA Wrestling club.

Signs and word of mouth brought wrestlers to practice and they are actively recruiting more youngsters to the sport. A recent addition of a wrestler from Alaska is an indication of the far reaching draw of the sport.

"USA Wrestling is proud of the efforts of Bob Krantz and Todd Spataro in establishing wrestling programs in the State of Mississippi," said Mark Scott, USA Wrestling Director of State Services. "Through their vision and enthusiasm, USA Wrestling believes that wrestling will begin to gain prominence in a state where amateur wrestling has had little acceptance. These two outstanding individuals are committed to the character building and role modeling that the sport of wrestling provides to those that participate. USA Wrestling is excited about the new opportunities that will evolve in Mississippi with the world's oldest sport and plans to support the efforts of Bob and Todd as they move forward."

If you know of someone in Mississippi who needs a wrestling fix, there is now a place for them.