When Mason Rabel told his parents he wanted to take up boxing, he got an unexpected response.
“My mom told me I needed to try wrestling first,” The Dunham School junior said. “So that’s what I did.”
It may not be the most unique story in sports. But it’s a story that has opened up a new sport for a family and helped expand one for the Class 2A Tigers.
Mason Rabel is a junior who wrestles in the 220-pound weight class. Freshman Grant Rabel competes at 182 pounds. The brothers look to use this weekend’s Brusly Invitational tournament as a gauge for the Division III competition.
“They’re really into wrestling,” Dunham’s nonfaculty assistant coach Fas Qayyum said. “They go to national meets and do a lot of work on their own.
“They’re always looking for somebody to wrestle against. If they can’t find anybody in Baton Rouge on the weekends, they’ll drive down to Metairie or New Orleans.”
The Dunham team of coach Randy Leindecker consists of fewer than 10 wrestlers. The Tigers practice in a converted building that was part of car dealership.
With the LHSAA State Wrestling tournament just a few weeks away, the practices are intense.
There’s a sense of urgency. The Rabels have competed in one meet — Zachary’s Big Horse tournament. Mason Rabel, last year’s Division III runner-up at 220 pounds, is 4-1. Grant Rabel, the defending Division III champion at 182, has a 3-1 record.
“I feel people are expecting things from us,” Mason Rabel said. “I was a runner-up at City last year and in Division III. I’ve got something to prove. This weekend, we’ll get what the Division III state meet might look like.”
The brothers credit former Dunham teammate Kirk Wilson, who is now wrestling at Arizona State, for helping their development.
“I was going to do different sports — basketball and baseball — and (Mason) got me into wrestling,” Grant Rabel said.
While Mason Rabel was a football lineman last fall, Grant Rabel sat out to concentrate on wrestling. A third Rabel brother, Parker, also wrestled until a back injury forced him to drop the sport.
“It’s a different life out here,” Mason Rabel said. “You’re out here trying to cut weight and get better. Working to break down an opponent during six minutes (time of a round) is what I fell in love with. There’s nothing like it.”
The brothers have different skill sets. Mason Rabel’s strength is wrestling on his feet. He’s not as comfortable with the top and bottom positions. Grant Rabel excels on the mat and is working to improve his footwork. Those differences take sparring to a new level.
Since football, Mason Rabel’s strict diet includes chicken and lean meats. He avoids cookies and candy. French fries are the food Grant Rabel cuts from his diet. Their mother, Elizabeth, competed as body-builder and helps with diet questions. Their father, Brett, also is a huge part of the support system in the family’s sport.
Building up Dunham’s program ranks right up there with individual goals.
“The hardest thing is to get people to come out,” Mason Rabel said. “Once they come out, they’ll love it.”