Ten years ago, Ray and Leslie Bedford got their son, Brodie, involved in a youth wrestling club in Flower Mound. It was an introduction to the sport for the then 5-year-old, and years later he now trains for Spartan Mat Club, an organization his parents formed in early 2016.

Since the inception, there have been multiple state and national champions, world team qualifiers, and college All-Americans who have used the Fort Worth gym to improve their skill level, including Brodie, one of the top wrestlers in the state, who competes now for All Saints Episcopal High School in Fort Worth. In October, Brodie won a national championship in the Boys National Recruiting Showcase in Des Moines, Iowa.

“The best part is watching them commit to hard work and dedication, and put that work ethic into everything they want to accomplish off the mat,” said Leslie Bedford, who is on the Texas USA Wrestling board of directors with her husband. “[The wrestlers] understand struggles, adversity and how to persevere through tough times. We have been blessed with countless college graduation invitations, many wedding invitations and are still in contact with most of our past wrestlers.”

The context

The Bedfords started the club and rented space at Flower Mound High School, using the wrestling room two days per week. The youth program started to grow, and athletes from all parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area attended. In 2019, the family opened its own 7,200-square-foot facility near the Keller-Fort Worth border, off Golden Triangle Boulevard.

That same year, Ray Bedford was hired to start the men’s and women’s program at Texas Wesleyan University, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics school in Fort Worth.

The facility included 3,500 square feet of wrestling mats, and the other portion of the building allowed athletes to workout. Lexie Basham became the college’s first national champion in the sport in 2022.

A closer look

Leslie Bedford said the sport of wrestling is growing, and Texas USA Wrestling had 7,823 total members last year and 1,807 of them are female wrestlers. That marked a 30% increase for girls wrestling and 19% overall.

She said some of the increase is due to move-ins from other states where wrestling is more prominent, but also some crossover with other sports, such as martial arts or mixed-martial arts.

The details

Ray Bedford left the college ranks in 2022 and now focuses on running the gym as well as his duties as the men’s and women’s freestyle/Greco-Roman wrestling director for Texas USA Wrestling, he said.

The club joined the Premier National League this year, one of 18 clubs in the country to be given membership. It pits wrestlers head-to-head with some of the top grapplers in the country, and Spartan Mat Club is the only one in Texas to be invited, Leslie Bedford said.

The pedigree and success of the club has led to athletes coming from Azle, Aubrey, Princeton, Frisco and Rockwall to train, she said. Wrestlers range in age from newcomers who are 5 years old to college wrestlers.

“Spartan draws the best wrestlers from many high school rooms, which gives all participants the opportunity to improve,” Leslie Bedford said. “They must train with better wrestlers to improve.”

What’s next

The Bedfords are getting ready for the 2023 Senior Nationals and Stockyard Stampede, which will be held Dec. 15-17 at the Fort Worth Convention Center.

The latter is a tournament for youth wrestlers from middle school to age 8 and under.

The Senior Nationals will feature men’s freestyle, Greco-Roman and women’s freestyle, and the top placers will earn spots in the 2024 USA Olympic Trials in April. That event will then decide who represents the country in the Olympics in Paris.