Dannii Sargent, left, and Warren Hart, right, after being presented with the Sports Award at the South Wairarapa District Council Civic Awards by Mayor Viv Napier. PHOTOS/PETE MONK

It has produced Commonwealth medallists, Olympic qualifiers and New Zealand titles but perhaps the Featherston Amateur Wrestling Club’s biggest achievement is its rebirth after almost being shut for good. ELI HILL talks to the club about what it takes to get back up off the mat.

Four years ago, the future of Featherston Amateur Wrestling Club was bleak.

“The club was closed down, it had no members, we were a week away from having our power cut off, and probably two weeks away from having our building repossessed,” committee member Dannii Sargent recalls.

The club, which had a history stretching back to the early 1900s needed a rethink.

“It took us a whole year of just sitting down and doing admin work to get out of the red,” said Dannii, whose husband Jeremy is the head trainer.

“It’s ended up accidentally becoming a family thing. All four of our trainers – Jeremy, Thomas, Chris and Nathan – are Sargents, then behind the scenes you have the four Sargent wives.”

After a year of paperwork, the club opened to the community, and ran children’s and adults’ classes for free with all costs covered by the Sargents and their businesses, Sargent Motorcycles and Sargent Builders.

The club didn’t have the finances to attend any national events but began a triangular tournament with the Tawa and Waikanae clubs that has continued every year since.

Jackson Sargent (in blue) takes down his opponent at the New Zealand National Wrestling Championships in Dunedin. He is representing the Featherston Amateur Wrestling Club.

“Our kids were training and training, but they had no one to compete against. This gave them a chance to demonstrate what they could do, and it’s good for the younger ones in particular,” Dannii said.

Last year the club entered the New Zealand National Wrestling Championships and picked up four medals, including a gold to Jackson Sargent.

At the same event, the club was also awarded the best-presented club in New Zealand and last month won the Sports Award at the South Wairarapa District Council Civic Awards.

With 70-100 financial members Dannii says the club is now New Zealand’s largest, and despite only just making a comeback, both its trainers and members have big ambitions.

“We have a group of kids tagged to work on for a Commonwealth Games squad, we’re unlikely to be competing in next one, but possibly the ones after that.

“It’s about helping them believe that little kids from tiny old Featherston can get there.”

Dannii said the ultimate goal is to get someone into the Olympics – and while that may sound a little far-fetched the club has produced both Olympic and Commonwealth Games athletes before.

Grant Parker competed in the Barcelona 1992 Olympics and placed 14 of 16, while deaf wrestler Robert Algie, who won a silver medal in the heavyweight division at Commonwealth Games, would have qualified for the 1988 Seoul Olympics but became ill and passed away from cancer.

Nigel Sargent won gold medals at the Oceania Championships in Brisbane in 1981, and Auckland in 1986.

This year the club is looking to ramp up its efforts following the same ‘bigger and better’ philosophy they teach the children during wrestling training.

The club will look to take away a bigger squad of children to the nationals and plans to take an adult team to the nationals for the first time in several years.

But as Dannii says – the club is about more than just wrestling.

“We’re striving to be bigger and better and want more – the things we teach our kids can be used in wrestling and their lives.

“We want to support our parents to grow, Featherston to grow, our sporting community to grow and the wrestling community to grow.”

  • The Featherston Amateur Wrestling Club is closed for the school holidays, but trainings begin again on May 1 and are held once a week on Wednesday evening from 5.30pm to 8.30-9pm at 52 Fitzherbert St, in Featherston.