Raising the bar for high school powerlifting

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“The bar is loaded!”

These are the words spoken at a powerlifting meet to indicate the declared weight is on the bar. A newcomer to powerlifting will often become a powerlifter after watching their first meet, explained Mineola powerlifting coach Nick Shutak. “If you are interested in it and go to that first meet…kids just buy in. It helps kids develop that competitive spirit,” Shutak commented.

In his second year as the Yellowjacket’s powerlifting coach, Shutak speaks with conviction about the value of powerlifting to the development of a young athlete’s body.

“Everyone wants two things regardless of the sport,” he explained, “to become faster and to become stronger. We make people stronger.”

The sport of powerlifting is a growing phenomenon in Texas. It is organized and conducted by the Texas High School Powerlifting Association and the Texas High School Women’s Powerlifting Association. The mission of the organizations is to “promote friendly, healthy, and highly organized competition in the sport of powerlifting to the athletes of Texas.” A total of 120 East Texas schools are members of the association.

In dispelling the sport’s biggest fallacy, Shutak pointed out that powerlifting is not a big persons’ sport. There are 10 weight classes in the boys sport beginning at 114 pounds up to 275 pounds. There is a single Super Heavyweight class for participants heavier than 275 pounds. In the girls sport, there are 11 weight classes, starting at 97 pounds up to 259 pounds. What is needed to participate in powerlifting is “a will to compete,” stated Shutak.

A native of Eustace, Shutak attained his teaching and coaching credentials at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall. He returned to Eustace for his initial teaching and coaching positions from 2013-17. He and his wife, Tessa, relocated to Mineola where he is in his second year as powerlifting coach and football offensive line coach. In the classroom, Shutak teaches world geography and Texas history. He and Tessa have a young daughter, Lydia, and just welcomed son Witten (born Dec. 2, 2018) to the family.

Powerlifting consists of dead lifting weights using three named lifts: the squat, the bench press and the deadlift. The bench press is the most well-known of the three and consists of lowering a weighted bar from full arm extension down to one’s chest and returning it to full arm extension while reclining on a bench.

In the squat, the loaded bar is carried on the back of one’s shoulders and the participant must squat and return to a standing position.

The deadlift consists of standing before a weighted bar, reaching down to grasp it and returning to a full standing position while carrying the weight.

Competition rules are simple. Each participant has three opportunities to attempt a lift at the declared weight. The powerlifter must be successful in one of the squats in order to move on to the bench press. Likewise, the lifter must successfully execute a bench press in three attempts, in order to proceed to the deadlift.

The 2019 girls powerlifting regional is complete. While no Mineola or Quitman athletes qualified for the state this year, Gilmer High School is sending six to the state meet and Winnsboro is sending three. The boys regional meet was conducted March 8. Mineola’s Kejuan Fite qualified for the meet in the 275-pound class. Quitman High School produced three regional qualifiers: Langdon Bautista and River Chaney in the 148 pound class and Justin Blalock in the 275-pound class.

Shutak’s athletes generally lift weights in the morning before the school day and may meet again in the afternoon to train on technique. The proper techniques are absolutely essential in competitive weightlifting and safety. Strategy in declaring one’s weight to be lifted is likewise a critical aspect in competition, as an athlete is allowed to “bump up” his declared weight should the circumstances dictate. “There is a lot of strategy in the sport,” stated Shutak.

According to Shutak, the future of powerlifting is bright, as athletes recognize the value of training to build a stronger body.

The benefits are evident regardless of the sport. Shutak summarized, “There is nothing, no one, stopping you from getting better…it is personal.”

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