Tragash puts Rams on mat

Eastside's Elijah Tragash, top, puts a hold on Gainesville's Rene Owens during the city championship last Friday.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 9:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 9:01 p.m.

Sometimes, when Elijah Tragash attends Eastside wrestling practice, he's all alone.

In the bowels of the Eastside High gymnasium, Tragash has spent several weekday afternoons this year wrestling against himself.

But that's nothing new for the 160-pound senior. Not for the guy who almost single-handedly started the program and who, despite all the difficulties along the way, has yet to miss one of those practices.

“He's just got so much passion for the sport, it's unbelievable,” said Elijah's mother, Jennifer, who — along with Tedrick Moore — has pretty much taken over the team to keep the program alive despite not knowing anything about wrestling. “Elijah never let the program die. He was always doing whatever he could to keep it going because he wanted it so bad.”

Four years removed from starting the team, Elijah leads his Rams with a 24-7 record, and with the district tournament starting Saturday, he's hoping his last year ends on a bright note.

“I'm thinking really positive,” Elijah said. “We've had some really good matches and everybody wrestles hard. I think we could be very good.”

Tragash got into wrestling as a sixth-grader but always wanted to go to Eastside because of their IB program — even though there hadn't been wrestling there for about 15 years.

So Elijah and his brother, Jake — two years his senior — came up with the idea of starting a wrestling team before Elijah got there. The two of them went out and got signatures, the administration's approval and even convinced the principal to hire a wrestling coach.

But difficulties still lay ahead.

“Raising the money was really hard because of the demographics at Eastside,” said Jennifer, who estimates it takes $6,000 a year to fund the wrestling program. “We have a bunch of kids living in poverty and, to this day, we don't have fundraising.”

Elijah and his family practically had to beg parents to donate money and give them equipment to practice.

But along the way, Eastside got the most help from their cross-town rivals — Gainesville and Buchholz.

The two schools helped them organize their practices and even invited them to tournaments. This year, when it was already December and the Rams hadn't scheduled any meets yet, the two schools helped them get into matches and even allowed Eastside's wrestlers to practice with their teams during Christmas break.

“One year we had completely run out of money and GHS literally showed up and brought food for our team for the entire day,” Jennifer said. “We could've never done it without them.”

So far, this has been their most challenging year yet.

On top of having only 15 guys on the team, their best wrestler over the last few years — Cleveland Ferguson — quit midway through the season, and the Rams didn't even have a match scheduled until Dec. 5.

But despite the difficulties early on, Jennifer said it's their best season in another way.

“We only have 15 boys, but they're trying to help me raise money, they're coming to every meet. They're just heart. Total heart,” Jennifer said. “We don't have any help, we don't have any money, we've got a small team, half of them are losing. But they are showing up and working.”

That work showed during the city meet, when they gave eventual four-time champion Gainesville all it could handle down the stretch.

Now, although small in numbers, they have a handful whom — along with Elijah — have a good chance of advancing deep into the postseason. They include: Leo Washington (140 pounds), Calvin Thomas (145), Antwan Murphy (152), Kentrell Houston (171) and Davontae Williams (heavyweight).

As for Elijah, he's hoping to make the state tournament for the first time.

“That's been my main goal all year,” he said. “Hopefully, I don't make it there alone.”

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