The only surprise to the end of Ed Ashmore’s run as a wrestling coach is that it didn’t come sooner.
“My heart is good, but by the end of last season, my legs hurt too much. [The arthritis] radiates from my spine into my legs and ankles,” said the 83-year-old.
It spells the end of the district-wide Commonwealth Bulldogs Wrestling Team, a team created for students whose schools are without a wrestling program, which is all of them this year (a new program, the Victoria Wrestling Club at Zuma gym, is offering a similar service to students in Grade 6 to 12).
Ashmore already misses it, he says. In recent years the Bulldogs were mostly younger kids new to wrestling, with the exception of the Shew sisters and one other teen. There were 18 members in 2016-17.
Over the course of his history, Ashmore could have written a book. During the past 54 years, much of it at S.J. Willis, Ashmore coached Olympians, national champions, provincial champions and district champions. His time at S.J. Willis in the ‘60s and ‘70s remains the golden era of his career, which also included his role as assistant technical director for the 1994 Commonwealth Games.
“S.J. Willis was looked on like the dregs of the district, but it was the most beautiful group of kids. It was the toughest school, but it was full of sweethearts,” Ashmore said. “They were my kids, God bless them, they’re 60 years old now but they’re still my kids. I loved them.”
Ashmore was a gymnastics coach at the Victoria YMCA in 1963 when then wrestling coach Art Burgess injured himself and convinced Ashmore to run the class.
Ashmore, a teacher, then led the team at S.J. Willis and when the existing high school wrestling teams folded, he expanded his program to include any student from SD61 or 63 and coached it long past his retirement from teaching.
“It was decades ago I was promised in perpetuity the use of Cedar Hill’s gym, but I had to work, I had to fight to retain that,” Ashmore recalls.
In recent years Esquimalt has run a successful program and Reynolds too has been off-and-on, though mostly off.
Michael Cappus, a Victoria resident born in Port Alberni, home of the Island’s biggest wrestling scene, is running the Victoria Wrestling Club.
“It’s sad to hear Ashmore has had to stop coaching this year,” Cappus said. “We’re trying to offer a club that will keep [his legacy] going.”
Like Ashmore’s Bulldogs, the VWC meets Tuesday and Thursday nights, 7 p.m. at Zuma Mixed Martial Arts in Vic West. It’s open to students in Grades 6 to 12 and is only $85 for the year, far less than a Zuma membership.
“The athletes will wrestle and train here but wrestle for their schools in meets,” Cappus says. “Our intention is to be as closely affiliated to B.C. School Sports as possible.
The first tournament of the season is in early December, a novice tournament.
“Hopefully we can branch out to the high schools again and start teams in schools again,” Cappus said.
Ashmore has three grandkids in town and three in Calgary.
Students interested in joining the Victoria Wrestling Club can contact Michael Cappus at firstname.lastname@example.org or 778-350-4225.
ZUMA is located at 1035 Alston St.