PITTSFIELD -- On a Tuesday night in the basement of Berkshire Nautilus, sixth-grader Dylan Burke is taking on whatever sparring partner comes his way on the wrestling mat.
That's just his nature. He's always been a grappler -- which is what led him to the Badgers youth wrestling program in the first place.
"I couldn't take my hands off people," Burke said. "My parents had me wrestle, and I loved it."
He's only been a Badger for five years, but Burke already has a Massachusetts Youth Wrestling Association state championship to his credit. And he's not alone.
Five state champions from just this season were on the mat at Tuesday's Badgers practice. Eighteen wrestlers were practicing, which is about half of what the club usually pulls in. The season, though, is winding down -- the Badgers are in Averill Park, N.Y., this weekend to end the schedule.
The Badgers started 12 years ago when Dave and Eddie Jones created the club at the Dalton CRA. They've moved to Pittsfield now, and Dave Jones says he's put in approximately $8,000 of his own money to refurbish the basement room at Berkshire Nautilus, making sure it's up to code. The Badgers share the room with the Team Link mixed martial arts club.
The Badgers, Dave Jones said, practice from the Monday after Thanksgiving to mid-April. Typically, they practice two to three times a week. The Badgers recently combined forces with the Berkshire Youth Wrestling club and won the Novice Division team championship at the MYWA Central Sectional tournament.
Many of these wrestlers will likely be future Taconic Braves, following in the footsteps of guest instructor Dave Jones -- the co-founder's son and a current Braves wrestler -- and Badgers assistant coach Chris Clark.
One of those likely future Braves, eighth grader Tanner Hastings, was practicing Tuesday night. He's worked with the Jones family, as well as Taconic wrestlers Dylan Sickell, Josh Tassone and Josh Broskey.
"I think it's a great way to get inspired," Hastings said. "Most of the kids in high school are able to be more devoted to the sport, and it's a great thing to look up to."
Six years ago, Hastings was second in the state in the 72-pound weight class. Now, he's looking to wrestle at 160 pounds when he reaches high school next year.
He's been around some form of wrestling almost his entire life. Hastings said his father practiced and taught judo for many years, so throwing came naturally. While attending Berkshire Trail Elementary School in Cummington, Hastings saw a flyer advertising Badgers practices at the CRA.
"[Wrestling] came naturally," he said.
He'll practice two to three nights a week with the Badgers, depending on the time of year. There is no shortage of space on the mats this night, and there are certainly plenty of people around to give him pointers. The Jones brothers and Clark were joined by fellow Badgers coaches Chad Poirier and Todd Sweeney, and little time was wasted. Every Badger in attendance had a grappling partner, and every session was watched intently by a coach.
Burke has recruited at least two friends in his time as a Badger, and has a goal of repeating his state championship.
When he puts his hands on people now, it's on the mat.
"It makes me better in everything -- my schoolwork and sports," he said. "It makes me better, faster and stronger."
To reach Matthew Sprague:
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On Twitter: @BE_MSprague.