INDEPENDENCE – On Saturday, the Panther Pit was filled with students wearing weight-lifting belts and the clatter of heavy weights falling to the floor, followed by raucous bellows and cheers.

It was the scene of Central High School’s weight-lifting competition, attended by several different schools, including Amity High School, North Salem High School, Willamette High School, Gladstone High School and Hermiston High School. 

Athletic Development teacher Rob Kassebaum put the whole thing together, with help from numerous CHS teachers and coaches. Last spring, a similar competition was held – it was Central’s first competition of the sort in 20 years.

As far as Kassebaum knows, this weight lifting competition is the only one in the state for high school. He said he hopes these competitions become a regular thing at the high school level.

“Strength training is something I am trying to promote,” he said. “The kids in my athletic development class are working hard, and it’s a good chance for athletes who don’t otherwise get a chance at competition, to compete.”

All of Kassebaum’s students in the athletic development class were required to compete at this competition.

The girls and boys competing were separated by weight class; the boys were also separated into two age groups: ninth-tenth, and eleventh-twelfth.

Each individual had three chances at lifting the designated weight in the bench press, squat and power-clean lifts before moving on to the next weight. Judges, members of Western Oregon University’s football team, sat at tables and helped with spotting, making sure the performance was up to standards.

Kassebaum was grateful for the judges’ help.

“We are so lucky to have that resource next door,” he said. Without their help, he said, these competitions would be a lot harder to organize.

The day started off with the girls division at the bench press, while the boys were at squats and power cleans. Each individual tallied up points on their max weight, combined between the three lifts.

For many of the students there, it was their first time in a competition of this sort.

“This is my first time taking a weight class ever,” said CHS senior Abygayle Mabry, “so I came into weights not being able to do a lot, so I set a personal record at every single one so far.”

Mabry maxed out at 90 pounds on power clean and bench press, and 165 on squats.

At first, she wasn’t thrilled about having to participate.

“A lot of us girls were not excited, just because it’s (Thanksgiving) break and we don’t like weight competitions,” she said. ‘But we’re really hyped right now, we have an adrenaline rush and we’re pushing ourselves to do more than we think we can.”

She took second place in the 148-pound weight class division.

Brock Pierce, a junior at CHS, took first place for 165-pounds in the squat, cleans and bench combined, tallying up 635 points.

Even so, he didn’t feel like he performed all that well.

“It didn’t go so well,” he said. “I’m not sure why. I just cut weight (for wrestling) two days ago, but I don’t know if that’s the reason or not.”

He didn’t go in with any expectations except to “get the same weight I did in class, but that didn’t happen either,” he said, laughing. “It was a good experience though. It was fun.”

Kassebaum said the spring competition is generally more popular.

“With the fall competition, you have kids pretty beat up from football, and then getting into basketball and wrestling,” he said.

He’s looking forward to the spring competition.

“The spring competition will rock,” he said.

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