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How wrestling shapes young minds

Sports: Askeo International Mat Club
By Edward Novak, Contributing Writer | Photos courtesy of Askeo International Mat Club

A large group of wrestling students

Work hard, do your best, take accountability and learn how to bear through hard times. These are essential life skills for every single person in the world and yet not every child is given the opportunity to learn them. Askeo International Mat Club is doing its best to change that.

Founded in 2007 in Vancouver, Washington, Askeo International Mat Club was born out of a vision to teach kids important life skills through the sport of wrestling. Initially starting with 10 students in a jiu-jitsu gym, Askeo has grown to have more than 160 kids and a 6,500-square-foot training facility, solid footing for their ambition to expand into the rest of the U.S. and beyond.

Askeo divides its students into two teams, Orange and Brown. The Orange team consists of kids aged 4 to 11, while Brown handles kids from 12 to 18. Accommodations are made for age and experience, of course, but the main thing expected from every Askeo wrestler is simply to give their all. As they tell their students: “Do your best and leave the rest.”

Wrestling, they firmly believe, is the best way to teach children some important life lessons that they may not have a chance to learn in their day-to-day lives. The sport requires tremendous strength, stamina and flexibility; and learning to develop those attributes teaches great dedication and perseverance. Though it is a team sport, each wrestler acts as an individual when they’re called to the mat and can only rely on themselves, teaching personal responsibility and accountability. Finally, wrestling requires an athlete to learn to accept pain and push through it to their absolute limit. These skills can be difficult for young people to develop in today’s world, but wrestling offers the perfect opportunity to learn them.

Askeo doesn’t only teach kids how to wrestle, however. They also offer boxing lessons through their partnership with YG Boxing, regularly clear the mats for volleyball, pickleball or full-court basketball, and even provide Google Chromebooks to help their students catch up on homework. As they expand, they plan to turn the facility into a full-time community center with enough space for all these activities and more.

Co-founder and coach Damon McPherson gives the credit for Askeo’s success to the excellent service provided by their 14 volunteer coaches, six board members, and countless parents and other members of the community who volunteer their time. Foremost among them is his father, Donnie McPherson, an Olympic coach and inductee to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, who, at age 73, still attends every single practice and tournament. His incredible knowledge and experience have led Askeo’s wrestlers to numerous freestyle and Greco-Roman tournament victories; he coaches his students with the same passion and heart as he would a world champion.

Askeo International Mat Club, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, has multiple big events over the next several months, including its “Winter Champions Summer Wrestling Camp” sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard, July 8–12; and its S.T.E.M. Camp, July 31–Aug. 3. Camp scholarships are available. They will also host the annual “Champions in Life” Awards dinner and fundraiser on Nov. 10. Learn more at Askeo International is located in Vancouver at, 1321 NE 76th St.