One could go back a decade and see that on the landscape of prep sports, powerlifting didn’t have a pulse and if it did, it was a faint one.
Flash forward to 2017 and indeed it certainly has one. The Leavenworth Times will take a look at the sport and the area program that had aided its explosion in Kansas – Basehor-Linwood High School. Today, we visit with the Bobcats while Thursday we look at the sport’s mental benefits and Friday the ways it improves the body of the athlete.
Ross Schwisow is the face of high school powerlifting in the area, if not the state.
The new athletic director at Basehor-Linwood High School ran the school’s powerlifting program that reached heights unmatched in most sports at most anywhere.
Competition began in 2008. The girls’ program at BLHS has captured every Class 4A state title since the team’s inception. They hold a 57-straight unbeaten streak in matches. Not to be outdone, the boy Bobcats have won eight straight Class 4A titles since 2010.
“Basehor-Linwood made a commitment to instilling a year-round strength and conditioning program for its students in the summer of 2006,” Schwisow said. “This included a full summer program for high school and middle school. This summer program would feed a school-based curriculum with students progressing through four levels during their time in high school. The basis for this program is to create healthy habits in our students and the ability for them to learn how to move properly.
“As our school strength and conditioning program developed, it became a huge resource to our athletic programs by not only keeping our students healthier, it also prepared them mentally and physically for their seasons. What was noticed was that an element of competition could be added. During the winter months, the only sports offered were wrestling and basketball. This left a large part of our student base who were still training for spring or fall sports. Powerlifting allowed for those students to continue to train but then have an element of competition added to it.”
Thus, the new program was born, dominance arose and the sport took off.
“It has definitely grown,” Schwisow said. “There is practically a meet every weekend during January and February for a student to attend if they choose or if it fits their training. It has grown for us because the students gain so much from it physically, mentally and competitively. They see results and see how much it benefits everything they are trying to accomplish in other sports.
“In my opinion, strength and conditioning is one of many vital skills a student should develop. These years for our students are to be learning skills they can carry on forever. As a young athlete, it is vital to team success, team health and team commitment.”
Of course, the athletes had to buy in and did they.
“We don't program just for powerlifting,” Schwisow said. “We take our principles in daily and then use the meets and the practices as an opportunity to push them further. We are very movement-based in our program and these powerlifting meets just give our students the opportunity to try to better themselves further.
“We began our first year (2007-2008) with 46 members and last year we had a roster of 152. Our winter off-season program had 228 students involved and 152 of them decided to join the team.”
Those athletes have appreciated what the sport has given them.
“The season is awesome,” Bobcat Phillip Perez said. “It isn't a big time consumer but it is more you get what you put into it.
“When I first wanted to do it I didn't have any resistance. I wanted to do it because I enjoy doing it and was very excited about it. Our program is successful because of the kids involved with it. We always have someone pushing someone else and cheering on each other. We really make the weight room a good environment to be a part of.”
“The powerlifting season is by far the best time of the year,” senior Maria Howard said. “We lift four days a week after school and we have a daily run/conditioning that we do. Each day focuses on one area that will improve your lifts and make you better when it comes to meet time.
“I will admit I was very skeptical at the beginning of the season as I did the workout on the card and I was like ‘Man this is so easy, there's no way this is going to improve my numbers and I really want them to go up.’ Although I thought this, I continued to do the workouts as instructed. Slowly, but surely the results came, and when the first meet rolled around and I won every possible event so there was no longer an ounce of skepticism in me, I knew then that this works.”
Perez and Howard also hear the sport’s popularity getting bigger all around.
“From what I've heard from other people at meets they just really enjoy lifting and getting a chance to compete,” Perez said. “I think it's becoming so much of a bigger thing because there are so many kids doing it. You don't have to be good at lifting to do it, so if you want to do it you can. Also, people enjoy watching it and see how much weight people can lift.”
“Powerlifting has started to become big and I think its an awesome thing,” Howard said. “It's an individual and a team sport all at the same time. I just went into powerlifting thinking I would use it to help develop me in other areas for softball, but I ended really falling for this sport. This can open up so many doors, and there are schools that offer this for athletic scholarships now and this can give people so many opportunities that they maybe would have never considered before. I wish other schools would consider making it a program because it is more than well worth the investment. Look at Basehor, they took a chance on it many years ago and look where it has gotten us today.”
Leavenworth High head coach Sean Sachen has to agree.
“Basehor does a great job in the lifting program,” Sachen said. “Coach Schwisow was one of the first coaches in the county to really be defined as a strength coach. He has a lot of kids in his program and his kids are strong. To be successful in powerlifting as a team you need either a lot of kids or very strong kids. Every year coach Schwisow has both. I do think that every school who has a structured lifting program like Basehor will show improved success. Leavenworth has shown team success from the weight room as well.”
The LVHS program has done well in Class 5A winning three girls’ state title along with five, total top-three finishes. The boys were runners-up this past winter.
“I'm not exactly sure when the powerlifting team started, but there has been some sort of lifting program here for years,” Sachen said. “As far as competition goes coach Daniel Capps won a girls’ state championship in 2013 and 2014. I think as more kids get to know me and my philosophy and understand that going to powerlifting meets can be fun, our numbers will continue to grow.
“Our numbers continue to grow each year. I anticipate an increase on our boys’ side. I have also met an overwhelming amount of talented and hardworking transfers and freshman girls who have expressed an interest in joining our team this winter.”
Justin Wieser takes over the BLHS program for Schwisow and is ready to continue the program’s success.
“Taking over for someone like coach Schwisow, who has established a program like the one at Basehor-Linwood, is a great challenge,” Wieser said. “There is a tradition of success in the powerlifting program that I intend to keep going. I have learned a lot from being around the students over the past few months and I feel confident that we will continue to be successful in powerlifting and in all the other areas of our training and athletics.”
All told, he is walking into a very strong situation and popular place to be.
“When it's powerlifting season, you know it because the whole school is talking about it,” Jackson Jennings said. “You can just feel the intensity of the people in the weight room after school ready to get after it and get themselves better. Powerlifting is all about everyone trying to make it to state or winning a meet. It's more about the chance to make yourself better and pushing another to make them better. Having an attitude like that gets you those state championships.
“Powerlifting has grown a lot over the past few years. Mostly this has to do with people finally realizing that you don't have to be on a sports team to be able to get in the weight room and make yourself better. That's what is so special about Basehor-Linwood powerlifting, it's not an intimidating place to be.”
The sport improves the mind and body of a young athlete and at a program like Basehor-Linwood, the competitors learn how to get used to being a champion.
“I honestly know we are almost hated by some schools because we are so successful,” Howard said. “We win state every year and near every single meet we compete in, and instead of other schools going out and pushing themselves and getting better they make the excuse that we win because we have numbers. I think the opposite. We win because we don't sit around and make the excuses. We don’t have time for that, we do not shy away from competition, we face it head on and conquer. Everybody steps up does their job and their part and that is what has led to our success.
“A huge part to our success is also owed to coach Schwisow. He has done so much not only with this program but all of our sports, he is a huge impact and influence. He makes it all enjoyable, and there is truly no one else like him. Best coach I have ever had. I know it scared many with a new coach coming in but I have complete and utter faith in coach Wieser. He is already doing so much with this program and we can only go up from here and I know he will continue to push us and help us grow.”
On Thursday, we take a look at how powerlifting positively effects an athlete’s confidence and competitive mindset.