April 12, 2023 at 5:19 p.m.
Experienced instructor Ponce visits Melrose
Watching Orlando Ponce move between students March 29 during middle school physical education classes at Melrose Area Public Schools in Melrose, it was easy to see why he wrestled for three Division III national titles.
He never quits moving.
Whether he was encouraging someone to do a toe-and-knee advance, a forward roll or even a cartwheel, Ponce was constantly moving from one pair of students to the other.
“I have a physical education background,” said Ponce, a 2012 Augsburg College graduate. “I am here to promote the health benefits of wrestling.”
Ponce was asked to come to Melrose to help with a physical education unit on wrestling. The curriculum is designed to introduce students to various sports during classes.
“We do swimming, football, volleyball, basketball and soccer; this is an extra piece,” said Chuck Noll, physical education teacher. “We are always up to trying something new.”
Noll had been introduced to Ponce while working with the Sauk Centre-Melrose Defenders wrestling program earlier this year. Ponce operates Ponce Trained Wrestling in Onamia and lives there, but he travels, bringing his insights to wrestlers.
“We do events like this and run tournaments and summer camps,” Ponce said. “Our main goal is to grow the sport of wrestling.”
Ponce sees his programs as a way to give something back to a sport he is passionate about. The sport, he maintains, provided direction to his life. A native of Managua, Nicaragua, he came to the United States while in elementary school and lived and graduated from high school in Florida. In wrestling, he found something that helped him throughout life.
“Wrestling really impacted my brother and my life,” Ponce said. “I became a college graduate and am pursuing my own endeavors. It is because of the people in wrestling. It put me around dedicated men that wanted to see me do better.”
He competed in the Division III national championship three times at Augsburg before coaching there from 2013 to 2018.
“I left one year too early,” he said. “The next year they won a national championship.”
During the class, he kept challenging students to be better with each exercise. He used the class to promote values of success.
“Don’t ever say ‘can’t,’” he said. “Henry Ford once said, ‘Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.’”
Helping run the classes were members of the Defenders wrestling team and assistant coaches. Ben Friedrichs, Isaac Frericks, Jose De Los Santos Morales and other Defenders volunteered to help. Some of Ponce’s lessons hit home to them, too.
“I learned people have to be willing to try and grow to be a better human,” Friedrichs said.
Ponce appreciated the help from the volunteers. They encouraged the students to try again, demonstrated moves and worked on drills.
“Our sport thrives on volunteers because they love what the sport can do for the kids,” Ponce said. “All we want is the opportunity for these kids to see it.”
The classes gave students a chance to meet Olympic hopeful Chris Rouleau, who wrestles with the Minnesota Storm. He encouraged the students to try something new and participated in drills. Some of the drills, like toe tag, were competitive. Ponce used those drills to stress sportsmanship and develop an attitude about competition and adversity.
“You shake hands and then compete,” he said. “You win or you learn, and then shake hands again.”
As lessons and students filed out, some were talking about what they had learned.
“It’s a very introductory level of the sport,” Ponce said. “I’m here to promote the benefits. Ultimately, I coach wrestling because I care about people.”