Started over 35 years ago in the City of Niagara Falls, a small group of dedicated wrestling benefactors created the Powercats Wrestling Club. The club began as a youth wrestling organization whose membership primarily consisted of athletes from Niagara Falls who attended the old Niagara Falls High School, Lasalle H.S., and Trott Vocational.
Today, membership has expanded to athletes hailing primarily from Niagara Falls and Niagara-Wheatfield schools, as well as athletes from Grand Island, Lewiston-Porter, Lockport, and other Niagara Frontier League and Niagara-Orleans League schools. Five years ago, a high school element called ‘Team Niagara’ was organized as an extension of the Powercats club.
Fifteen years ago, another group of motivated wrestling enthusiasts combined their resources to purchase an abandoned store at the corner of Niagara and 24th streets in Niagara Falls to serve as the new home of Powercats wrestling. The effort was led by Roger Spurback who was at the time the president of the city’s block association. With the help of Duane Brown, Andy Shomers, and current Niagara-Wheatfield head wrestling coach Rick Sweney, an eighteen-person executive board and a host of volunteer laborers organized a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to fundraise and apply for grants which ultimately led to the purchase and rehabilitation of the building at 2402 Niagara Street.
The building features two floors completely outfitted with wrestling mats and other training equipment. The first floor has meeting space, offices, restrooms, drinking fountains, and a collection of trophies, pictures, and memorabilia from past varsity and collegiate champions who got their start as Powercats and/or Team Niagara wrestlers.
Much of the equipment and wrestling mats were acquired through grants and donations. The club has mats from the old Niagara Falls H.S., Lasalle, Cardinal O’Hara, and Canisius College.
Some alumni who went on to wrestle in college like Angelo Malvestuto (Niagara-Wheatfield, Virginia Tech), Andrew Shomers (Lewiston-Porter, Edinboro) Will Hilliard (Niagara Falls, Old Dominion), and Zach Breeden (Grand Island, Mercyhurst) have signed t-shirts representing their college teams hung on the wall in the practice space.
No less than forty-two individuals of Powercats/Team Niagara alumni who have been wildcards to the state tournament, sectional champions, or state champions have their pictures on the wall inside of the club as a showcase of champions for the younger generations. Among the pictures are 2018 NYS champion Willie McDougald (Niagara Falls), 2x NYS finalist Justin McDougald (N-W), and 2x place winner Warren McDougald (N-W). There are many of whose pictures are missing.
“My sectional champs, back in the days, were all summer wrestlers” said Coach Sweney on the importance of summer wrestling. Former UFC Light Heavyweight champion and Niagara-Wheatfield alumni Rashad Evans even wrestled for the Powercats.
The Powercats have been wrestling as a club now for 35 years and have had countless champions win hundreds of youth tournaments over that time. Even given the rise of the NWAA organization which is made up of Niagara-Wheatfield athletes, the Powercats continue to see good numbers. Likewise, some NWAA wrestlers are members of both clubs.
With registration still open, about thirty-five youth wrestlers have signed up for the Powercats 2018 campaign. The club fee is only $50 which gets access to the wrestling facilities, tournament fees, exposure to knowledgeable coaches and guest clinicians, and a t-shirt.
Five years ago, Coach Sweney and Niagara-Wheatfield assistant coach and NWAA president Bill Ploetz organized a summer program for local high school wrestlers as an extension of the Powercats club. This would be called Team Niagara, which has come to be one of the best local summer clubs. Wrestlers from Niagara-Wheatfield, Niagara Falls, Grand Island, and Lewiston-Porter make up the bulk of the team’s members, while some individuals from Wilson, Lockport, Newfane, Akron, and Starpoint wrestle for or have wrestled for the team as well.
A host of current standout wrestlers like Wheatfield’s Section VI champions Josh Thibeault and Colin Coughenour, 2018 sectional champion Dan Emblidge (Grand Is.), and state tournament wildcards Jaquan Johnson (GI) and Jake DeWolf (N-W) can be seen at practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Heading into the summer, Team Niagara has already participated in a handful of offseason events. The club defended its team title at the Starpoint Summer Duals on Saturday, May 12th. Team Niagara will participate in the Nickel City Duals on June 2nd at Buffalo Riverworks and will send a team to Clayton for the annual 1000 Islands Summer Duals (Aug. 3-5). Some individuals also compete in freestyle events.
Some of the area’s top female wrestlers are members of the club too. Niagara-Wheatfield’s Kendra Cheers NYS freestyle champion. Rhylee Jung, also from (N-W H.S.) placed 3rd at the freestyle states and was a NUWAY folkstyle national champion this spring. While the boys were in Pendleton last weekend, Kendra and Rhylee were competing in Irving, TX at the 2018 Women’s National Championships. The pair will also head to Fargo, ND for the Cadet Women Freestyle tournament in July. Lewiston-Porter assistant wrestling coach Bill Edwards primarily coaches the club’s female athletes.
While the club primarily functions in the wrestling ‘offseason’ of spring and summer, Coach Sweney (also the club’s executive director) keeps wrestling and learning the main focus, teaching technique, good drilling habits, as well as expanding membership, fundraising, and hosting guest clinicians. “We open the doors to anybody” stated Sweney. “I like my kids to be exposed to different coaches and people.”