Powerlifting offers Elk Mound and Colfax athletes an alternative to other winter sports

By Cara L. Dempski

Until four years ago, there were only two potential winter sports at Elk Mound High School: boys’ basketball or girls’ basketball. In Colfax, there were three, the two basketball teams and wrestling.

Four years ago, Colfax coach Matt DeMoe started a powerlifting “team” with one student. At the same time, a group of 17 students formed a team at Elk Mound High School. While neither team is sponsored by their respective districts, the sport has grown in the two communities, and the coaches are looking into garnering more support from the local boards of education.

Elk Mound started with 17 students and has increased nearly four-fold since the first season to include 64 students. Colfax’s team has gone from one participant to 16 in the same time span. 

Participants at both schools enjoy the camaraderie offered by the sport, and appreciate the chance to stay in condition between the fall and spring sports seasons. The coaches at both schools are working with their respective school boards to be recognized as a sports team. The Elk Mound team is able to earn varsity letters, which is something DeMoe is hoping his team will be able to earn starting with the 2017-2018 season.

Michelle Lee, one of Elk Mound’s assistant coaches, stated she has invited the board of education to the upcoming tournament at Elk Mound High School on February 11 in the hopes of garnering more support.

“I want them to see that this is a real sport, with rules and regulations that have to be followed,” Lee explained.

Each team has already qualified several lifters for the state meet at Racine’s Horlick High School on March 11 and 12. Powerlifting is not just a sport for the biggest, strongest-looking kids in the school either. There are 10 weight classes for girls and 11 for boys, but each competitor is judged pound-for-pound on how much weight he or she lifts compared to his or her weight.

The rules 

As Lee noted, there are rules and regulations every powerlifter, team, and coach follows for meets and tournaments. The Wisconsin High School Powerlifting Association oversees almost all of Wisconsin’s powerlifting teams, and uses rules and regulations detailed by USA Powerlifting.

The USA Powerlifting Lifter’s Handbook offers information on everything from competitor conduct and approved clothing and gear, to performance rules and weight classes. Lifters are expected to be professional and respectful of all fellow competitors, officials, administrators, spectators and media. There is a strict non-discrimination, non-sexual harassment policy that offers zero tolerance of any conduct that engages in sexual harassment.

Lifters wearing supportive (no seams in garment) costumes must have the costumes registered and approved by the International Powerlifting Federation’s Technical Committee. Those wearing non-supportive (seams in garment) costumes do not require technical committee approval. One-piece singlets need to be full-length and of one-ply stretch material without patches, padding, or division into panels by means of unnecessary seams.

The seams and hems on singlets are not to exceed three centimeters in length and one-half centimeter in thickness. A non-supportive singlet is allowed to have a double thickness of the same material measuring 12 centimeters by 24 centimeters in the area of the crotch. Singlet seams may be protected or made stronger by narrow-gauge webbing or stretching material that does not exceed two centimeters wide and one-half centimeter thick.

The garment must have legs that are a minimum of three centimeters long; they can be up to 15 centimeters in length. Measurements are taken on a line from the top of the crotch down the inside of the leg. Suit legs may be cut higher on the outside of the leg. 

Competitors are required to wear t-shirts or supportive shirts under the lifting suit during the performance of squats or bench press, but are optional for male competitors in the dead lift. Shirts cannot be rubberized or of a similar stretch material, cannot have pockets, buttons, zippers, collar or v-neck, does not have reinforced seams, is made of cotton, polyester, or a blend, cannot have sleeves terminating below the elbow or above the deltoid, and cannot bear offensive slogans.

The lifting costume regulations include what type of underwear can be worn in competition, how to wear socks, the appropriate shoes to wear, and guidelines for belts, wrist wraps and knee sleeves. Raw, or unequipped, lifters wear a non-supportive singlet, briefs, socks, belt, shoes, wrist wraps, and knee sleeves.

Lifters must declare their starting weights for all three lifts at weigh-in, a 90-minute period that starts two hours before the meet. Each competitors has three attempts at each weight and must notify the official of the next weight to be attempted within one minute of completing a lift at a given weight. Three unsuccessful lifts will result in no total and eliminate a lifter from scoring.

A squat is only considered valid at any weight if a lifter bends his or her knees and lowers his or her body to the point where the top surface of the legs at the hip joint is lower than the top of the knees. The lifter starts in an upright position with knees locked and must return to the same position in order to terminate the lift attempt.

Competitors in the bench press must be on their backs on the bench with head, shoulders and buttocks in contact with the bench surface; feet must be flat on the floor. The athlete’s hair cannot obscure the officials’ view of the head in contact with the bench. The lifter needs to wait for the chief referee’s signal, which is given as soon as the lifter is motionless and the bar properly positioned. 

The starting position for every bench press lift requires the bar to be held above the lifter’s chest with elbows locked. When the referee’s signal is given, the lifter must lower the bar to the chest or abdominal area, hold it motionless on the chest, and wait for the referee’s command to “press.” After the command, the lifter needs to return the bar to a position with straight arms and locked elbows.

Deadlifts require lifters to face the front of the lift platform with the bar laid horizontally in front of the lifter’s feet and lifted until the competitor is standing erect. On completion of the lift, the competitor must lock his or her knees into a straight position, and his or her shoulders must be back. The referee will not give the “down” signal until the bar is held motionless and the lifter is in the finished position.

The 10 female weight classes are 97 pounds, 105.75, 114.5, 123.5, 132.25, 148.75, 165.25, 181.75, 198.25 and 198.25-plus. The male classes start at 116.75 pounds and continue with 130, 145.5, 163, 182.75, 205, 231.25, 264.5 and 264.5-plus.

The teams

Elk Mound High School’s powerlifters practice every weekday after school. The team meets from 3:30 to approximately 5 p.m. and breaks up into different groups to rotate between agility training, core exercises, and weight training in the weight room. With 64 names on the current roster, the days of everyone fitting into the weight room at the same time are long gone.

Head coach Coty Schmidt said the team never seems to lose any competitors, and his roster seems to have picked up a few new names since the beginning of this season. He was working on agility and strength with a group of first- and second-year powerlifters when he was interviewed. 

The group of male underclassmen and rookie lifters was working in pairs. One person would wrap a belt around his waist to which a looped bungee cord (approximately six feet long and padded) was clipped. The other person in the pair placed the looped bungee at his waist and was required to try sprint, shuffle sideways, and run backwards down the school hallway while the person wearing the belt provided resistance.

Schmidt coached the group of boys through their set of drills with the bungees before sending them to work on core strengthening exercises with Lee. He welcomed a group of girls for the next round of drills, and kept a watchful eye on each athlete. At one point, Schmidt offered some criticism to some of the girls he did not feel were working to their full potential.

“We have to start realizing our maximum,” he told the group. “We all know what we can do, so now we need to start pushing beyond that. You can do this.”

The head coach was also not afraid to push his athletes a little harder when he saw his words and encouragement were not being taken seriously. When he felt one of the female lifters was not working up to her full potential, Schmidt asked her partner with the weight belt to hand it over to him, and he provided resistance to the young athlete.

Several female upperclassmen gathered around to watch the younger girls finish their agility work, among them junior Erin DeLong.

“It’s my favorite sport,” DeLong said.

The Elk Mound athlete also plays softball, but said that powerlifting has become something she truly loves in the past few years. She likes the workout and the chance to push herself, but DeLong also likes the new relationships she has forged with her teammates.

“It’s funny, because half these girls I wouldn’t even talk to until I started lifting,” the junior explained. “Now some of them are my best friends.”

DeLong and classmate Bryce Kasper agreed that there’s a definite “family” feel to meets. Both said when they’re lifting, they can hear the voices of their classmates, coaches and family cheering them on. 

The feeling of family was just as evident in Colfax as it was in Elk Mound. DeMoe and his lifters have their weight room kitted out with all the necessities for building strength and agility, along with a few items that are products of inside jokes.

For instance, a pair of white cotton men’s briefs, or “tighty whities,” hangs on a bulletin board just to the right of the stairway down into the weight room. DeMoe and his team explained those are a fun reminder of the number of times this season members of the team have been penalized for wearing incorrect underwear under their singlets. 

He expressed disappointment that there were not marks yet on the pair of underwear.

“I asked them all to sign them and it doesn’t look like anyone has yet,” the coach stated.

The team took its time figuring out the best way to arrange itself around the squat rack in the middle of the room, and there was a lot of laughing and joking going on as everyone took their places for a team photograph. The affection each athlete has for DeMoe was evident in the repeated requests for him to join the team in the picture.

Mounder assistant coach Aaron Maves specializes in working in the weight room with the athletes. His son, Rylan, is a senior at Elk Mound High School and has participated in powerlifting since its inception at the school. Maves is a weight lifter himself, which is part of what drew Rylan to the sport. Lee’s daughter, Alexis, was drawn to the sport by her mother’s efforts in weight training.

Michelle Lee was already involved in weightlifting, which sparked Lexi’s interest, but what sold her on the sport was learning she could become a much better softball player if she lifted weights.

“I had her talk to Emily’s mom, and that was what got her hooked,” Lee said.

Emily Ausman is a senior powerlifter who has competed on the team since her first year in high school. She is the only female lifter on the team to have gone to state all four years. George Friberg, also a senior, was a shy, retiring freshman when he first joined the sport.

“He’s grown so much since he first started,” Lee said of the senior. “It’s like he completely came out of his shell.”

This year’s teams are some of the most talented yet. Elk Mound junior Darren Svihovec has already won two best lifter awards this year, and Colfax has three lifters occupying top spots in their weight classes. Mikaela Liebfried and Spencer Peterson are both second in their respective divisions, and Hailey Durand-Christianson is currently first in hers.

DeMoe said one of the things he likes most about the sport is it includes many female competitors.

“It’s a great sport,” he stated. “The boys have always lifted for football, but the girls just didn’t lift that much. That’s what’s great about powerlifting: you get just as many girls as boys.”

Lee and Maves said the same about the Elk Mound team. They agreed there have consistently been as many girls on the team as there are boys.

The Elk Mound and Colfax coaches agreed that powerlifting is something the young lifters have a passion for. Lee said that is why she has invited the school board to the February 11 meet at Elk Mound and plans to visit an upcoming board meeting.

“These kids put their heart and soul into this,” Lee finished.