It’s been more than 40 years since anyone has laced up wrestling shoes at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Athletic director Mark McCarthy said the last record of a team was back in 1982.

“That was the same year the hockey team started,” Mr. McCarthy said. “But I’m sure that was just a coincidence.”

Whatever the reason for its demise, 41 years later Coach Jerry Kadien is working hard to bring the wrestling program back. Coach Kadien was hired as a math teacher at the regional high school in 2020, at the height of Covid. During his interviews by Zoom, he said he brought up the idea of starting a wrestling team and school officials were supportive.

He began by setting up a booth at a club fair last winter to gauge interest.

For now the team practices in the cafeteria, rolling out the mats each afternoon and putting them away at the end of practice. — Jonathan Fleischmann

“My wife made this nice poster board with some pictures and I had my laptop open, playing college and Olympic matches,” he said. “And the most common question I got was, ‘so, do we actually get to wrestle?”

The answer was a definitive yes, and a core group of 12 kids began practicing together last year.

“We ended up running, initially, six weeks in the springtime,” Mr. Kadien said. “I wanted to keep it light and fun, to teach them the basic fundamentals. But they said, ‘can we do a couple more weeks?’ I was like, sure, let’s go ahead and do that.”

This winter the club team started up again, practicing three days a week. Over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, the team traveled off-Island to take part in a junior varsity tournament, placing ninth out of 19 teams, with seven wrestlers earning medals, a huge feat for the kids, some of whom had never wrestled before a few months ago.

When asked what prompted them to go out for the team, the universal answer was that it seemed like a cool thing to do.

Coach Jerry Kaiden arrived at the high school on 2020, to teach math and wrestling. — Jonathan Fleischmann

“I wanted to try a sport where I could have some fun and a challenge,” said freshman Xeandre Miller.

Xeandre had five matches at the tournament, all in one day, notching a number of wins.

“It’s a challenge to fight someone you haven’t met,” he said of the tournament.

Valentin Dos Reis echoed the sentiment.

“I wanted to be able to say I’m good at this because I sank my time into it, something other people don’t do.”

He also offered up another reason. “I really wanted to beat my friends.”

Coach Kadien has a long history with wrestling, going back to his time as a high school wrestler in the Syracuse area. He and his wife moved to Atlanta, both teaching at schools there, and he coached wrestling for years, working his way up from youth programs to a head coaching position.

“I got my own program in 2015,” he said. “It was an older program, but had become very depleted with just seven kids in the room. But by the time I left, we had won three regional championships in a row. My last year there my 106 pounder was a state champ, and my heavyweight was the state runner up.”

After that success Coach Kadien wasn’t thinking the next step was to seek out an even bigger challenge, to move to an Island he had never visited, one with no wrestling program. He and his wife, Jennifer, moved for their son.

The Kadiens have three children, a nine-year old boy and a set of five-year old twins, one of whom was born with a kidney disease. Coach Kadien acknowledged Atlanta has great hospitals, but he and his wife felt they needed a deeper support system and to be closer to family, many of whom live in the northeast.

“He will need a transplant at some point in time,” Coach Kadien said of his son. “In fact, multiple transplants probably in his lifetime. And even though he made it through those initial scary moments, there are barriers with kidney disease: five years old, 10 years old, puberty is the big one for boys. As they grow, the kidneys just can’t keep up. So as we started talking about the transplant process and putting together a team and so forth, and they started asking questions like, what is your support network?”

Teams heads off-Island this weekend for its second tournament. — Jonathan Fleischmann

The family searched for jobs in the Boston area and saw an opening for a math teacher at the regional high school. In 2020 they moved to Falmouth, staying on the mainland for easier access to the Boston hospitals, and Coach Kadien has been commuting to the Island ever since, to teach math and wrestling.

But he doesn’t have to do it alone. Wandering the Island on any given day, looking like regular folks, are a band of ex-wrestlers who have been waiting for this day — former high school and college wrestlers, coaches who have retired here.

“I was one of a group of people talking about this possibility for a long time,” said Morgan Douglas, who manages the Black Dog Tall Ships and Black Dog Wharf Companies.

Mr. Douglas wrestled at Tabor Academy and at Gettysburg College but hadn’t stepped on a mat since 2001. Now he’s at practice nearly every day.

“It is so cool to be at the start of something, to see these kids go from zero to getting their hand raised at a tournament,” Mr. Douglas said.

Paul Danielovich has also been at nearly every practice until he broke his leg recently in a freak accident. Mr. Danielovich has more than 50 years experience as a wrestler and coach. He is also an expert at starting up programs, including four at high schools around Massachusetts. A retired educator, Mr. Danielovich had recently moved to the Island when he heard about the new program and jumped on board.

“The kids benefit from the sport so much, and I love passing along the knowledge,” Mr. Danielovich said.

Coach Kadien agrees with the merits of the sport, in that it teaches lasting life lessons.

“There’s these lists of top Fortune 500 companies and so many of the CEOs were all involved in wrestling,” he said. “The mindset of accomplishing your goals and reaching for things, it becomes this way of life that spreads to everything. The parents see the difference in their kids already.”

The next step, after another tournament during Presidents’ Day weekend, is working to make the sport official, going from club sport to varsity sport.

“We are all supportive and love the idea,” Mr. McCarthy said. “But right now the number one challenge is to figure out where it’s going to live. It needs to have a home.”

Currently the team practices in the cafeteria, moving tables and chairs to the side of the room at the end of the school day, retrieving the mats from down the hall and mopping them down, all before they can begin practice. Then after practice they have to do it in reverse, putting the cafeteria back in order so that at lunch the next day, it is as if they were never there.

At the end of a recent practice, Coach Kadien watched his team break down the room. The wrestlers were sweaty but smiling.

“Once you’re in it, you are always in it,” Coach Kadien said.