CASHMERE — Japan’s Junior National Wrestling Team visited the upper valley Thursday night. They met on the mat some of the areas finest wrestlers in a Goodwill Exhibition freestyle dual to showcase each country’s particular brand of wrestling and provide in each other cultural exchange and a taste of international sportsmanship.

“We were contacted by the culture exchange executive director,” said Cashmere Head Wrestling Coach Ken Hoyt. “I did a little bit of checking and got positive feedback from my administrators. And our coaches thought it was a good idea. I wanted more participation. It was a little last minute for some schools.”

Japan selected champions from various high schools and assembled a small team of13 led by a couple of high school coaches chosen in a similar way. For two weeks, from Jan. 4 to Jan. 15, this team will travel around Washington state visiting high schools and challenging local wrestlers to friendly matches.

“We have been to Spokane, Colville, now Cashmere, and we will be moving on to Royal City and finally Tacoma,” said the Japanese Team Leader Sugiyama Isao through a translator. “They are all high schoolers from 16 to 18. This team was gathered together on just the third of January. Most are champions and from different high schools of various sizes. This is one of two teams traveling around Washington and there is also one in Oregon.”

The Japanese and North Central Washington (NCW) athletes wrestle with two different styles. The Japanese wrestle “freestyle” and the NCW athletes wrestle the kind most of us are more familiar with, collegiate. Freestyle is a more extreme version of collegiate, not only visually, where the Japanese wrestlers often jump, roll, and spin around their opponent, like when two-time state champion, Colin Silverthorn of Tonasket, was hoisted onto the Japanese wrestler’s shoulders and was walked to the edge of the boundary line where the Japanese wrestler flipped forward, Silverthorn still on his shoulders, tapped his back on the mat before finishing the roll and taking the win, but also the scoring.

“We wrestle freestyle,” said Isao. “Which has different rules compared with the local folk-style.”

When you see these two styles face each other it almost looks like two different sports.

“They won’t learn any new transferable skills,” said Hoyt. “Because of how different the wrestling styles are, but they can take something mentally away from the experience. Collegiate wrestling is more controlled and exacting where you have to keep your opponent down for several seconds as opposed to just touching. The concept is still the same. Takedowns and pins.”

The Japanese squad looked fit and showed their athleticism. They made short work of the NCW wrestlers winning all 11 matches in just over a half-hour. No points were given. It was just win-or-lose until the referee saw what constituted a pin under freestyle rules. But it’s not a true comparison when both sides have trained to operate within a box comprised of wholly different rules, point systems, and techniques. Each side, however, can take away from this a unique experience that not many peers can compare it to.

“Originally, I just wanted our league,” said Hoyt. “But some coaches were apprehensive, which I understand. They’re worried their kid could get hurt because it’s a different type of wrestling. I have a different look at this. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for these kids. To be able to experience that high level of an athlete is special. You’re supposed to experience these kinds of things when you’re young. It might motivate them.”

When Hoyt wasn’t able to cultivate enough interest from all the schools within the CTL he branched out. He got a few tugs on the line from Ellensburg who brought Francisco Ayala and Tonasket who brought Waylon Wilson, Silverthorn, and Carson Sasse. The CTL was represented, however, with Cashmere’s Trenton Mason, Aaron Guerrero, Whelan Gillikin, Duke Odenrider, and Okanogan’s Johnny Swartsel and Sterling Ritch.

“I would like more representation from the valley next time,” said Hoyt. “Because there will be a ‘next time’.”

The coaches observed but there was little to no coaching during the matches. The athletes were on their own, aside from the referee.

“It was fun to watch,” said Hoyt. “It was unique for a kid who hasn’t seen a style like this to experience it because they aren’t allowed freestyle. To see the degree of athlete that we saw today was above and beyond. We had a contingent of kids from here and other schools who are good wrestlers, a two-time state champion, and they got schooled. It just shows you how good their young athletes are.”

The Japanese team was housed by local families and will spend some time with their opponents off the mat. They have visited local museums and will check out Aplets and Cotlets in Cashmere before getting a little time in Leavenworth. Their last two stops before heading back to Japan are Royal City and Tacoma.

Rand Stevens: 665-1167