BURRILLVILLE – A wrestling program with a long, but somewhat sporadic history in town returns this week with new in-season dates, new coaches and a reach that’s broader in scope and ambition than in any of its past iterations.
Ashley and Geoff Poirier have rechartered the Burrillville Lightning Wrestling Club, a co-ed youth program located in Burrillville, and now serving athletes in kindergarten through 8th grade from all of northern Rhode Island.
Started some 15 years ago, the club was dormant for close to decade before it was rechartered last year and ran briefly. At the time, it was run by Coach Jacob Rivers, who also coaches at the middle school and high school level, so it was never been able to run in season.
“Burrillville Lightning ran a few off-season programs in the last several years,” explained Geoff Poirier, who took over the role of head coach this year. “it is an undertaking to run an entire youth club and unfortunately, we had not had the bandwidth to run.”
Now, for the first time in more than a decade, the Burrillville Lightning team plans to compete.
“We finally have the coaches to run during the traditional winter wrestling season,” Poirier said.
The new team leader has been coaching since 2009, but notes he’s been involved in the sport since 8th grade, when he wrestled for North Attleboro High School under legendary Hall of Fame Coach Wayne Griffin. In college, Poirier wrestled at Roger Williams University, before co-coaching the Kryptonite Wrestling Klub in North Attleboro, Mass. with his brothers for six years.
“We regularly had 90-100 athletes in grades k-8 during the winter season,” Poirier said. “In the off season we coached high school wrestlers and traveled all over the east coast, participating in tournaments from Maine to Maryland.”
While living in Canton, Mass., Poirier started the American Grit Wrestling Club, where he coached k-12 wrestlers year round.
“We even held training sessions for the Boston Irish Wolfhounds Rugby Team,” he said. “Wrestling helped to keep them in shape and perfect their tackling technique. That year, the Wolfhounds went on to win the 2016 Newport 15’s Championship.”
After moving back to Rhode Island, Poirier co-head coached the k-8 Cumberland River Monsters and assisted the Blackstone High School Wrestling Club . He was then named the inaugural head coach of Davies Tech wrestling team in Lincoln.
“During the last four years, we showed continued growth ending with two wrestlers now competing in college,” said Poirier.
Under his leadership, the team produced one Freshman State Champion, one runner-up Freshman State Champion and numerous qualifying state championship wrestlers.
Now, he’ll bring that experience to Burrillviile, reinvigorating a program that aims to provide wrestling for k-5 athletes until middle school, when many can compete for their own home towns.
“In the event an athlete does not have a middle school wrestling team at their school, they stay with Burrillville Lightning to compete at tournaments throughout the season and in the RIWA State Champion, where clubs compete and can qualify for Youth New England Championships in late March,” Poirier said.
Asked why he took on the challenge, Poirier said his biggest reason is a love for coaching.
“I coach because I want to give back to the sport that gave me so much in life and provide the opportunity to wrestle to as many communities as possible,” he said.
And working with younger children will allow the sport to become a family affair. Poirier noted that all three of his children have grown up on a wrestling mat.
“The moment they could walk, I would bring them with me to practice whenever possible,” he said.
He notes his oldest two, Geoffrey, now age 6, and Genevieve, age 5, were fixtures during practice at Davies Tech.
“This last season they would warm up with the team, try to learn the technique we were teaching and would wrestle each other in the corner of the mat,” Poirier said. “Sometimes they would challenge the high school kids.”
“As much as I loved coaching at the high school level, I want to enjoy watching my children start their careers,” he said. “Not only do I get to coach and watch my children compete, but my wife is even on board.”
Ashley, he notes, has been, “dragged through wrestling,” since the couple started dating 13 years ago.
“I knew this was going to be great the moment she said, ‘If you’re going to do this, you’re going to do it right. I want in,'” Poirier recalled.
Ashley brings a background in marketing, sales, nonprofit coordination and fundraising to the endeavor and has been working on social media content, reaching out to surrounding towns, and organizing practice times and space.
The coach notes that the Burrillville Middle School program already has a strong tradition of success, with three state placers in 2022 and four in 2023 – and wants to show continued progress.
“We want to share this progress with everyone in northern Rhode Island and create a hot bed of talent right here at home,” said Poirier.
The program will hold its first parents meeting, sign-ups and intro to wrestling clinic on Thursday, Nov. 2 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Burrillville Middle School Auditorium.
“Even if your kiddo hasn’t wrestled before, this is a great opportunity to try out a practice and learn about the sport,” Ashley said.
Coach Geoff noted there will be many changes from years past, including a focus on athletes from all communities in northern Rhode Island in order to create a pipeline of wrestlers to all schools, hopefully creating the chance for new high school programs in the future. He also pointed to the growth of the girls program.
“Wrestling has always been considered a coed sport and Rhode Island has made numerous steps in promoting girls’ wrestling,” he said. “This year there will be an official RI Girls State Championship at all levels of wrestling. This is the first step in moving to a girls only division.”
The coach noted that wrestling not only helps to improve skills in other sports, but is unique in that anybody can do it.
“I have coached athletes that were blind, deaf and even had physical limitations,” he said. “It does not matter your size or ability, everyone can learn how to wrestle and find success.”
The club will operate year round and starting in the spring, the program will be a home for all ages from K-12 to continue training and competing until next season.
“Spring, summer and fall will provide practices for all k-12 athletes,” Poirier said.
He noted there will also be off season competition, with the program not only providing access to tournaments outside of Rhode Island, but also potentially hosting its own during off season months.
Future plans include the start of what Poirier called, “Old Man Wrestling,” open to anyone out of high school looking to learn the sport, relive their glory days or just get in a work out.