MANCHESTER - Burr and Burton Academy has new varsity sport.

After debuting at the school as a club sport last season, coed wrestling has made the jump to a varsity sport and they will compete in their first meet at AuSable Valley High School this Saturday beginning at 8:30 a.m.

Last year BBA coach Zach Monforte said he believes they competed in three dual meets and five tournaments. That number has increased significantly this year as Monforte said the team will compete in eight tournaments and close to 10 dual meets as required by the Vermont Principal's Association (VPA).

"Right now through the school we're seen as a varsity team. In MVL (Marble Valley League) we're wrestling the varsity lineup," said Monforte.

Ray Gormley (left) and Sean Armstrong, members of the Burr and Burton Academy wrestling team, perform a wrestling demonstration during a Monday morning
Ray Gormley (left) and Sean Armstrong, members of the Burr and Burton Academy wrestling team, perform a wrestling demonstration during a Monday morning assembly earlier this month. The new varsity sport will open up its season on Saturday when the team participates in the Ausable Valley Tournament in New York. (Gary Baker photo)
"In terms of standings and stuff it probably won't count, but at least we're in the MVL scheduling and we'll wrestle everyone in the MVL. So, when you look at that I think it's a step in the right direction."

Last year, Monforte said he began with about 30 students being interested in the program. However, by the end of the season only six students remained as members of the team. Those members are returning this year and Monforte said the size of the team has grown to 21 students to start this season.

"Those are fantastic numbers. I couldn't be happier," said Monforte during an interview on Monday. "And I have a couple of kids who came today and are checking it out. The word's getting out. We have a lot of support from the school and support from the student body."

Due to the interest at the high school level, Monforte said that his youth numbers are also strong. Last year there were 13 kids and Monforte said there seems to be some interest among some of the students at Manchester Elementary Middle School.

"My assistant coach he works down at MEMS, he's a teacher down there and the way that he's been talking it's getting a huge buzz down there and a lot of kids are talking it up," said Monforte.

During the course of last season, BBA performed so well at one of their meets that it led to the coach of AuSable Valley inviting them to the meet.

"It was my 125 pounder Ray Gormley wrestling one of his (the AuSable Valley coach) top wrestlers. He didn't get pinned. He lost the match, he got tech falled, but he wrestled really tough and that turned some heads," said Monforte.

One of the six returning members from last year's team is Sean Anderson who had the team's only winning record last year at 14-13.

With the coed program, Monforte said there are also a few girls who have joined the wrestling team as well.

"I think that's great," said Monforte. "I'm not against girls wrestling. I actually give kudos to them to want to come in on the mat and wrestle. They know the expectations, that the rules are the same. [There are] the same expectations for a boy that is wrestling and I think that it's great that they come out and say 'Hey, I want to wrestle' and I know here at my program that their fellow teammates are very, very supportive of that."

On Jan. 28, the school will host the first wrestling match in its history - something that Monforte said not only he, but the students and the school are very excited about.

"I'm psyched for it," said Anderson. "We had kind of like a debut in assembly and the crowd was just going wild when me and this kid (Gormley) wrestled. So, I feel like there's going to be a lot of people showing up for our first home tournament. So, it should be huge."

Gormley shared similar sentiments.

"It's the first home meet in BBA wrestling history," Gormley said. "So, it kind of means a lot to know that me, Sean and this team are going to be the first people to have a home meet at this school."

Two weeks after their home meet, BBA will face Mount Anthony - who last year won their 25th consecutive state championship - in the Marble Valley League Tournament. Monforte indicated that the match would not only be a challenge, but that he had mixed feelings about it as well.

"They're the best in the business," said Monforte. "It's something that right now, if I could, I wish that we would not wrestle them, just because of the fact that we're a new program. They're a huge program. They're the best in the state. They wrestle the big schools. So for us to wrestle them I think it's actually a good opportunity because to become the best you have to wrestle the best and they're the best in the business right now."

While Monforte said he thinks some of wrestlers are both excited and nervous about competing against MAU, they are more concerned with Ausable Valley as well as all the other matches prior to their meeting with MAU that would help them guage where they were as team going into the state tournament.

"I guess I'm just happy [that] one that we're in the MVL scheduling and two that we're able to wrestle at the varsity level and especially go to the varsity state tournament," said Monforte. "I think that's what I'm most excited for."

Though Gormley and Anderson are two of the most experienced wrestlers on the team, they are aware of the frustration that comes at the beginning for a new wrestler. As a result, Anderson said he would encourage his teammates to stick with it because eventually all the hard work would pay off and they would begin to start seeing the wins pile up.

Gormley agreed, but said he believed in the team's ability to get past those emotions.

"If this team keeps on working as hard as they've been working this past month then this team is going to go far," said Gormley. "If this team can get past the first few weeks of matches, which I know they can, then we're going to be a great team."

Follow on Twitter @BrandonCanevari.