Kennard-Dale powerlifters find national success while competing in virtual format

Gabe Hulslander
  • The Kennard-Dale High School powerlifting teams recently competed in a national virtual tournament.
  • The event was held by The Good Athlete Project.
  • The K-D boys finished first as a team, while K-D girls took third.
  • Gabe Hulslander (242 pounds),  Allyson Wolfe (123) and Hailey Clayton (165) took individual crowns.

FAWN GROVE — Since March, little has been “normal” in 2020.

Unfortunately, much of life's abnormality during the COVID-19 pandemic has not been for the better.

Education was moved from the classroom to cyberspace. Restaurants have either been closed or severely curtailed. Perhaps nothing, however, has been more significantly altered by the coronavirus than sports.

High school athletics were suspended during the PIAA basketball and swimming postseason. PIAA spring sports were nearly wiped out in their entirety. Now, much talk is focused on the possibility of resuming fall PIAA sports, but that is far from a certainty.

Despite all of the sports disappointments of the past five months, there have been some silver linings as well.

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The Kennard-Dale High School powerlifting teams are a good example. The K-D boys' team recently finished first in a national virtual tournament, while the girls' team took third.

Niko Hulslander

Finding a way: Having completed just a quarter of their scheduled competitions for the 2020 season before the virus hit, coach Niko Hulslander and his athletes were understandably upset. K-D, which has won three state powerlifting championships over the past eight years under Hulslander, was set to host a regular event, as well as this year’s state competition.

Despite missing out on nearly a full season, the program was still able to find a way to compete in this new, socially-distanced world. The Good Athlete Project was able to complete its national event this year in virtual space, giving the K-D lifters a new focal point to shoot toward.

“This was an event that was created in place of all of the other contests that were affected by COVID-19,” coach Hulslander said. “The USA National Championships in Texas, in which we had nine lifters qualify for that, was canceled, and having our season cut short was certainly a disappointment. But having the chance to be a part of this event, we were just overjoyed to be a part of it. It was an opportunity for these kids to continue training. It was good to give them a sense of purpose.”

Surpassing expectations: Not knowing what to expect in a field of more than 150 teams from across the nation, the K-D lifters surpassed their collective expectations.

The boys’ team won the event, with Hulslander’s son, Gabe, claiming the 242-pound title. The girls’ team, meanwhile, finished third with a pair of individuals — Allyson Wolfe (123) and Hailey Clayton (165) — earning individual titles.

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Working out: While training for the national competition at the high school was not a possibility, coach Hulslander found a way for his team to practice and then compete using the gym at his residence.

“A lot of them didn’t have access to stuff, either at their home or even with all the gyms being closed,” coach Hulslander said. “So, with their parents’ permission, some lifters were able to continue training at my garage, which we did one at a time. We made sure we kept things safe and we cleaned things before and after each lifter came in.”

Coach Hulslander’s garage was where each lifter’s attempts were filmed for review. The film from those attempts in the three categories — bench press, squats and deadlift — was uploaded for judges to review with a cumulative score being tallied.

Katie McFatridge

Girl power: One aspect of the event that coach Hulslander found particularly encouraging was the performance of his girls' team, which sports a roster of nearly 20.

“Girls are just flocking to this sport,” coach Hulslander said. “And it’s because a lot of things. It’s the gain of self-confidence, the self-esteem and the empowerment they get from lifting the weights. And most of them are finding out that they don’t look any different — certainly not like the Incredible Hulk or Arnold Swartzenegger — but they’ve gained a lot of strength.”

The strength gained by powerlifting can be used for a lot of different things in life, most especially other sports. Katie McFatridge, who finished third at 195 pounds as a freshman, is good example. She also competes in softball.

“Katie, whose older brother was a three-time state champ for K-D, is kind of following her brother’s footsteps, but also blazing a new trail for herself,” coach Hulslander said. “And to finish third in this online national championship as only a freshman is remarkable. And recently in training, Katie deadlifted 315 pounds, which puts her No. 4 in the history of K-D girls’ powerlifting history all-time.”

The attraction of doing something her brother did, while also building strength that she can use as a softball player, was appealing to McFatridge. So, too, was the fact that the K-D girls’ program is pretty robust.

“Having more girls on the team actually makes it feel kind of easier,” she said. “I think it’s just more fun to practice.”

Team element: The team element of the competition is also a big draw for McFatridge.

“While the marks and goals that you set are for just you, you’re still proud of everyone on the team,” McFatridge said. “For me, I was very proud of (Allyson and Hailey) and I feel that the rest of the team felt that way too.”

Reach Ryan Vandersloot at sports@yorkdispatch.com.