Dickinson created perfect club for Alaska wrestlers

Updated: November 3, 2022

Photo: The All-American Training Center in Soldotna, Alaska, has been set up by director Pete Dickinson, who also brings in many national clinicians to the facility.

“Wrestling provides kids with the understanding of how hard work can benefit them. It can change their lives, give them direction.”

— Coach Pete Dickinson, head coach and founder of Alaska’s All-American Training Center

By Bill X. Barron

An Alaskan native from Anchorage who competed for Robert Service High, still the state’s most successful program, Pete earned nine K-12 state titles including high school. At Div. II Minnesota State-Moorhead, he was a two-time NCAA All-American in 1999 and 2000.

After college, Pete worked in the oil fields, saving enough to establish one of the country’s elite training facilities on his property in Soldotna, Alaska, where the club practices, holds world-class clinics year-round, and hosts state as well as national events.

Ahad Javansalehi, USA Greco-Roman national assistant coach and now the OTC head coach at Stanford, has served as an AATC special guest coach, as has Oklahoma State head coach John Smith, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and six-time World champion.

Other AATC clinicians have included: Dave Mills, Masters World champion; Kris Nelson, NCAA national champion; Jared Lawrence, NCAA national champion and Pinnacle Wrestling School head coach; and Damion Hahn, two-time NCAA champion and current head coach at South Dakota State. 

Dickinson and assistant coach Kurt Strausbaugh now train upwards of 180 local kids. An extremely successful club, the team has won two back-to-back AUSAW Grand Champion state titles in folkstyle, freestyle and Greco. The club also has had success in national events. 

“RMN provides not only great competition but also serves as a measure of our success as a club,” said Dickinson. “Their events bring a lot of energy that really motivates our young kids to perform at their best.”

In addition to three 42-foot wrestling mats and the space to host major competitions, the gym has an auxiliary gym, male/female locker rooms, a full-size fitness center, medical sauna, pro shop, paint ball, air hockey and even a Smoothie bar.

Pete Dickinson, a former All-American from Minnesota-Moorhead, returned to his home state of Alaska after college to work in the oil fields before starting the All-American Training Center.

This year, the Alaska entourage traveled to Colorado for the RMN Nationals Championships, where they brought home team trophies in freestyle (first) and folkstyle (third). 

The All-American freestyle team had 28 placers with 15 finalists and five champs, while the folkstyle contingent had 22 placers, six finalists and two champions.

RMN national champs in freestyle (FS) and folkstyle (FK) included Kanin Kumfer (10U 61 – 4th FS, 1st FK); Nataleigh Shane (15U 123 – 1st FS, 1st FK); and Mason Bock (15U 123 – 4th FS, 1st FK).

Additional AATC club champions in June 2022 were Trevor Michael (15U 137 – 1st FS, 2nd FK); Trinity Donovan (18U 145 – 1st FS, 2nd FK); and Hunter Richardson (18U 182 – 1st FS, 3rd FK).

Getting to Colorado involves driving 2.5 hours to Anchorage, then boarding a 6.5-hour flight to Seattle. With a layover to Denver, that amounts to a full day of travel. But for Dickinson, it’s well worth the effort.

“From the universal start to the best awards in any system we see, RMN is a true promoter of the sport and is very attentive to our wrestlers’ needs,” he said.

As partners in business, Pete and his wife Tanya were featured in the 2016 Alaska Journal of Commerce as two of the “Top 40 under 40” business entrepreneurs in the state. 

“My wife is a rock; she’s the one who makes the vision a reality,” Pete said. “Through working together, we built our own company, then put all our assets into a gym for the entire community that’s open 24/7, where we could give back to the sport that has meant so much for us.

“Some kids have tough homes and struggle in life. For them, our facility is family. Not only does our gym provide a safe situation for local youth, but for many a wrestling scholarship is the only means through which to get a college education.

“Building a diverse club with kids from a full variety of backgrounds takes an entire community where everyone is focused on a common goal. They have to buy into the program wholeheartedly, while entrusting us with the lives of their kids.

“Our Soldotna Whalers board of mothers, fathers and all sorts of dedicated people are the ones who truly make it happen. They go above and beyond to provide fund-raising opportunities for kids to pay travel expenses through car washes and parking lot sweeping.

“Through wrestling, we believe we are creating productive members of society. Wrestling imparts a work ethic that you can apply to any obstacle you face. Every kid should be required to wrestle for a year.

“For today’s kids, forces in the world contribute to an entitlement attitude. Kids need direction and wrestling is just the sport to do it.

Dickinson added that, “It’s a difficult day-to-day existence in Alaska, but that difficulty breeds toughness. Alaskans are a hard-working people who make life meaningful through their diligence.

“In order to be good at what you do, you have to be dedicated. You get out of life what you put into it. Become a student of your job, and you can accomplish anything.

“Likewise, be a student of wrestling — study the best teams and wrestlers to determine what makes them successful. In short, you must be all in … in wrestling as well as in life.”  n