HOUSTON – March 29, 2019 – When Coach Ernest Webb was looking for an extracurricular activity to offer his Roberson Middle School students – one that would be as unique as the school’s Math, Science and Fine Arts specialty program – it didn’t take long to decide on wrestling. Now, five years later, the program has grown and expanded, attracting new students each year as well as support from organizations like the J.J. Watt Foundation, which has helped the Roberson team afford uniforms and mats to train on.
“You can’t hide in wrestling,” Webb said. “Everybody gets a chance to compete, and it’s up to you to decide what to do with that opportunity. On the mat, it’s just you against your opponent. It really teaches the students to be resourceful.”
After winning the third-place team trophy at the Houston City Wrestling Championship in January – along with several individual student awards – Roberson’s wrestling team wrapped up its 2018-19 season by taking nine of its older members to participate in the Texas Middle School State Wrestling Championship held Jan. 25-26 near Dallas.
“I’m really proud of these kids,” Webb said. “They had a great year.”
With 542 wrestlers from all parts of Texas competing in the event, the Roberson students managed to take home three individual medals, including seventh-grader Kaliyah Coleman’s third-place finish in the 113-pound weight class. In addition, eighth-graders Colla Torres and Oscar Riggs took fifth- and sixth-place medals, respectively, in their own weight divisions during the meet.
During the earlier Houston City Wrestling Championship – held at St. Francis Episcopal School – in addition to the third-place team trophy, several of the Roberson students took home individual medals: Torres, who took first place in the 140-pound weight class; eighth-grader Juan Esparza, who took second place in the 113-pound division, plus Coleman and eighth-graders Jesus Garcia and Oscar Riggs, who each took third place in their own respective divisions.
Esparza, who along with fellow eighth-grader Theo Gould serves as one of the team’s captains, said that wrestling had given him a connection to his teammates that’s meant a lot to him since joining the sport as a sixth-grader.
“I really wanted to be a part of something, so I got into wrestling, and it’s helped me out with a lot of stuff, mentally as well as physically,” Esparza said. “You can have a horrible day, and then you come to your wrestling team, and every one of them will support you. It takes the load off of you.”
For Gould, wrestling has been a great way to meet people from around the Houston area, but also a way to challenge himself and learn to take responsibility for his own success.
“If you lose, it’s on you, you can’t go blaming it on other people,” he said. “But when a match is over, to me, as long as I did all that I could do, and I just left it all on the mat, then I’m satisfied.”
Webb is supported by fellow Roberson staff member Cory Idlebird, who serves as assistant wrestling coach, as well as by Avery Dyer, a community member who helps coach the team on a volunteer basis. The Roberson team – supported by an active parent booster club – is currently the only wrestling team in Spring ISD and regularly competes against larger programs hailing from both public and private schools across the region. This was only the team’s second time sending a contingent to the state meet, the first being two years ago.
“We are extremely fortunate to have the leadership and coaching efforts of Coach Webb and Coach Idlebird at Roberson as well as the heartfelt contribution of the J.J. Watt Foundation which afforded the opportunity for us to start our wrestling program years ago,” said Principal Tracey Walker. “Because of their service and recognition of the importance of extracurricular activities, we are able to give our remarkable RMS scholars a chance to thrive. Our wrestling program has offered students a sport that is exceptionally unique in our school-of-choice, non traditional setting. We are Razorback proud.”
With the wrestling season wrapped up, Webb has moved on to Roberson’s other unique athletic offering – lacrosse, which gives Roberson students a team-building activity that complements their training on the mat. Still, he insists that wrestling’s particular mix of skill and spirit makes it a great match for his students.
“In life, sometimes you might be on your back, you might get pinned, you might get tired,” Webb said. “These kids, they’ve got a lot of things in life trying to keep them down. We try to teach them skills and techniques to help them get up and be successful. But attitude matters, too, and how you support each other. At the end of the day, it’s not just about wrestling. It’s about the relationships.”