Every Monday through Thursday this summer, from 9 to 11 a.m., Soldotna High School has held weight lifting sessions for interested students.
Saturday, those students got to show off a summer of sacrifice at the 2016 USA Powerlifting Justin Maile Classic at Justin Maile Field at Soldotna High School.
Justin Maile is the father of Larry Maile, Ph.D., who, among many other accolades, is a member of the International Powerlifting Federation Hall of Fame.
Most, but not all, of the 34 lifters at the meet were a part of the Soldotna football program.
“I think it’s a really good opportunity for a bunch of young lifters to see what they are made of,” said Soldotna junior Brenner Furlong, who will be a fullback and outside linebacker for the Stars this season.
Galen Brantley Jr., the head coach of the Soldotna football team, said that in the past the team has had a Man of Steel competition to celebrate its summer of lifting.
But Brantley has seen his students take more and more of an interest in powerlifting competitions, with about 25 kids competing at a competition in February and another eight going to the 32nd USA Powerlifting Alaska State Championship in the spring in Anchorage.
“It’s a celebration of all the hard work the kids put in during the offseason,” Brantley Jr. said.
But to hold a powerlifting meet requires judges that hold lifters to exacting standards. For that, Brantley Jr. thanked Rob Schmidt, the Alaska State Chair for USA Powerlifting, and all the volunteers that came to Soldotna to make the meet happen.
Levi Hensley, who will be a senior tight end and safety at SoHi as well as lace up the skates for the hockey squad, said what makes the meet special is the atmosphere.
A gathering of family members and friends pushed many of the lifters to personal bests.
Hensley also said knowing that atmosphere would be available at the end of summer added a little more juice to the morning lifting sessions.
“You definitely work harder,” he said. “It makes you do the little things like watching what you eat and really pay attention to how much you are progressing with your lifting each day.”
As usual, the meet had a couple of breakout stars. Schmidt was particularly enthusiastic about the squats of Mekhai Rich and Dawson Fox, who both broke state records at their age group and weight class.
Rich, 14, will be an eighth-grader at Soldotna Prep this season. He weighs about 120 pounds and was able to squat 192.9 pounds.
“I’m just getting into lifting this year with coach Brantley,” said Rich, who plans to put his powerlifting to good use for football. “It’s helped me gain experience, knowledge and to build a little more muscle.”
Fox, 13, will be an eighth-grader at Skyview Middle School. He was able to squat 253 pounds despite weighing 130 pounds. He even said that he thought he could add 10 pounds to that.
“It definitely improves my ability in sports overall,” said Fox, who focuses on football. “Being stronger helps out with everything.”
SoHi’s Austin Schrader was the top performer at the meet, as measured by the Wilks Coefficient, a metric that can be used to compare the strengths of different lifters despite the different weight of the lifters.
Schrader, weighing 183 pounds, had a Wilks score of 360.99, with a squat of 402 pounds, a bench of 286 pounds and a deadlift of 501 pounds.
Furlong, weighing 176, was next on the Wilks list at 316.49. He squatted 336, benched 264 and deadlifted 419.