Dexter Powerlifting Team Sees Success in First Year

By Seth Kinker,

On the weekend of Mar. 9, the Dexter Dreadnaught Powerlifting team saw success in their first trip to states with Vince Malong and Matt Gaechter placing for Varsity in the men’s division, Caleb Drenner placing for JV in the men’s division, and Ellen Barnes placing for Varsity in the women’s division.

The Powerlifting team at Dexter began this year, late in the cycle, actually. The season normally begins in December and the first meet they attended was in January at a regional meet in Grass Lake.

“It’s been crazy,” said Barnes, who was the top placer for the Dreadnaughts placing 12th in her division at the state meet. “I went straight from the meet in January to three months later going to states. It was a lot of fun. I went to all the meets with the other guys and was cheering them on. It was so fun watching them beat their PRs in competition and watching kids from other schools and seeing how much kids can lift.”

Chris Whittaker, the strength and condition coach as well as physical education and health and wellness teacher at Dexter High School, started the Iron Dread strength and conditioning program at Dexter which in turn lead to him creating the Powerlifting team.

Whittaker has followed power lifting but the meet at Grass Lake was the first one he’s ever been to. After interest from students, Whittaker found out about the Michigan High School Powerlifting Association.

“I grabbed a handful of our dedicated kids and said, ‘hey, do you want to go lift in a meet? Squat, bench, deadlift?’ Those are our three main movements that we use in here,” said Whittaker.

Whittaker got permission from Dexter High School Principal William Moran to form the team and the rest was history.

Last year, Barnes worked out in the morning for basketball. She didn’t have a spring sport, however, and needed something to do.

“I saw (the powerlifting team) said ‘hmm this looks fun, maybe I can turn it into something, why not?’ I just thought it’d be something fun to do after school every once in a while,” said Barnes.

The lifting, and strength and condition program in general, was something Whittaker has been working to install district wide after being hired full time this year. The only difference he saw with getting involved in powerlifting competitions would be the time frame in prepping for competition.

“The strength program and the powerlifting, it’s all to develop our culture of strength,” said Whittaker. “When I got here, when Phil (Jacobs) brought me in, I was hired to coach football. It wound up working out that I had the strength and conditioning credentials, so Phil handed me the keys. He still teaches our strength and conditioning, it’s the programming, all the stuff that we run, it’s all the same programming that I do with the kids in the afternoons and the mornings. But he handed me the keys to it, and I can’t thank him enough.”

“That’s where it all started,” added Whittaker. “Getting in here and just building our culture of strength. We want these kids to enjoy being strong, and value being strong. It all came back to servicing football and servicing everybody with a strength program. Because if they’re not gonna play basketball, they’re not gonna wrestle in the winter time, they’re gonna come train anyway. The expectation is you’re here and you’re busting your tail to get ready for the fall, so you’re gonna be here anyway. Why don’t you go try to go to a state meet, or just go because it’s fun and because you want to break records?”

Whittaker adapted a slogan from a gym in Ohio, with their theme being “strong(er),” and adapted that to the “Dread Strong” slogan adopted in Dexter a few years ago. They made “Dread Strong(er)” and have since pushed that across social media to help promote what they’re doing in Dexter.

A short season from mid-December to the first week of March, Whittaker said that not competing at a large number of events was important for kids looking to lift as part of their offseason program for other sports they may play.

“All of our powerlifting kids play another sport,” said Whittaker. “So, it’s something they could get into in the interim.”

It’s a careful thing to balance, Whittaker told The Sun Times he’s had kids come up to him with interest in joining but has had to remind them they were active in a different sport.

After seeing his team compete the first year and have lifters place at the state meet in March, Whittaker was happy for his team.

“Our kids work hard,” said Whittaker. “It’s cool to see them rewarded. We’re very happy that we had our kids go represent (Dexter).”

Since Whittaker has gotten the team off the ground, he has seen interest from younger kids elementary and up, identifying the middle schoolers as a great group.

“We went to Wylie and showed the third and fourth graders what to do and they were talking about coming up and training with us,” said Barnes.

Looking ahead, Whittaker is hopeful to host a meet at Dexter next year as well as continue to aspire to place higher at the state meet and hopefully get more kids to compete for team trophies.

Whittaker is planning a Lift-A-Thon to raise money for the program and to let the community know about the program within the district.

“One day this is gonna be the Iron Dread Wall of Fame,” said Whittaker pointing to the wall above the weight room. “Some of our kids would do well but they’re afraid to step on a platform because it’s kind of intimidating,” said Whittaker. “That’s why I like celebrating the ones that step up. It doesn’t matter what their max was, they went, and they competed.”

Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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