LOCUST GROVE, OK —
Locust Grove senior wrestler Braden Bennett ended his junior season as a state runner-up with a 33-8 record. Bennett will begin his senior campaign in New Zealand July 1 for the Down Under International Games.
Down Under Sports was founded in 1989 by George O’Scanlon. O’Scanlon, who is from New Zealand, had a goal to bridge continents together through the world of sports. The United States, New Zealand, and Australia all compete in six different sports — wrestling, track and field, volleyball, basketball, cross country, and football — against each other in the Down Under International Games.
Each country selects athletes who they believe will represent their country the best. Down Under Sports recruiter Robert Goodell said the main goal for each country is to win and find the best athletes to help them do so.
“Every state has their own regulation that we follow in choosing our athletes, but overall, we are looking for athletes that can participate at the next level. Whether that be at a professional or a college level," Goodell said. "Our goal is to bridge the gap between Australia, New Zealand, and America, but it is also to beat them. We choose athletes that we feel will give us our best shot at taking gold.”
Bennett meets those requirements after receiving an invitation late last year.
Wrestling runs through Bennett’s blood. His uncle, Demos Glass, was a state champion in 1994 and Braden’s father, Wade, also wrestled in high school. Bennett was raised to compete on a mat, but Locust Grove head coach Johnny Cook just improved on Bennett’s wrestling genetics.
Cook coached Bennett and Glass through their high school careers. Bennett has worked with Cook on a daily basis in order to prepare for the international competition. Although great coaching and family support is important, Wade believes Braden deserves most of the credit.
“Under the prevalence of Coach Cook, Braden has gone from an average wrestler to one of the state’s elite in a span of only five years,” Wade said. “Wrestling is such a tough sport, while it’s extremely important to have the network of friends and family around you, none of [Braden’s] success would have been possible without his inner drive. He has an amazing work ethic.”
Wade will accompany Braden on the 12-day trip across the ocean. Their trip will begin in New Zealand for the freestyle individual tournament and team dual meet. When the freestyle competitions end they will head to Queensland, Australia, for the beach wrestling portion of the event.
Beach wrestling is not popular in the United States, but is erupting internationally. Competitors wrestle on the sand of a beach while wearing board shorts. Braden says the beach wrestling portion will mainly be for fun in his mind.
Competition will conclude July 9 when all participants will travel to Hawaii, where they will spend three days. The Bennetts will return to Locust Grove after their Hawaiian vacation.