BRADENTON — He crouches into position like a gladiator ready for battle.
But, Brandon Tackett isn’t dishing out carnage like the Roman gladiators from yesteryear did.
Rather, Tackett is going through the various training motions that come on the wrestling mat at Manatee High.
The 7-year-old displays a tireless work ethic, as he heeds the commands of the Manatee Kids Wrestling Club’s coaching staff during a Tuesday night session.
That training has brought the sandy-haired grappler a national title.
“Simba, like the lion,” said head coach Randy Wadle about Tackett’s nickname. “He lost his first 27 matches. But he’s the kind of kid that loses a match and gets back up, and says, ‘Bring it on, I’m ready for more.’ He kept going after it, so I nicknamed him Simba, because he has the heart of a lion.”
Tackett said winning nationals was awesome.
He points to the repertoire of moves in his arsenal as the reason for his success.
“My coach and my Dad have taught me new moves, and now that’s gotten me to win more matches,” said Tackett, who is a first-grader at Oneco Elementary. “Like chin-whip, chicken wing half-nelson and the three-quarter nelson.”
Tackett said his favorite new move is the three-quarter nelson, because “it puts people in pain, while your pinning them.”
The training is an arduous three-days-a-week program.
Wadle said they started with 75 kids.
But that number has dropped to 20-25 as the season comes to a close.
Wadle said the kids who leave the program move onto other sports.
That’s because wrestling is a winter sport — even in Florida where the temperatures are a bit more balmy than the wrestling hotbeds of the Northeast and Midwest.
“There’s no other club in Manatee County that’s even close to the size of our club,” Wadle said. “And wrestling, a lot of it is how hard you work and how good the coaching is. But the most important thing for kids ... to be successful, in my opinion, is having really good practice partners that’ll work them out hard during the practices. And you can’t do that if you have a five or 10 person club.”
Wadle has his sights on the AAU Elementary National Duals.
The meet is this weekend in Kingsport, Tenn., where Wadle said there’ll be two Florida teams. One of those teams will feature several Manatee County wrestlers.
Tackett, Angelo Dedona, Noah Wadle, A.J. Colagiovanni and Hunter Reed are the Manatee County wrestlers heading to the national dual meet.
Prior to that, Jesse Fulk joined Tackett as a national champion.
“He’s just a complete stud,” Randy Wadle said about Fulk. “Absolute, complete stud. He’s had two national titles already, he’s won states 12 times. He’s in the seventh grade. Only losses I think he’s had this year are against high schoolers. He’s just an animal.”
Fulk’s success on the mat breeds success in others that train in the kids club, located at the gym that lies above Manatee High’s basketball court.
That success is traced back to Tackett’s national championship, after the 7-year-old spent his first year losing more than winning.
“I’m thrilled with Brandon Tackett,” Fulk said. “I would never think a second-year kid would win nationals, like, I’m personally jealous.”
Jason Dill, sports writer, can be reached at 745-7017.