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Originally published February 14, 2011 at 9:10 PM | Page modified February 15, 2011 at 10:40 AM

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Lake Stevens wrestlers try to pin down storybook ending for documentary

The lives of current Lake Stevens wrestlers and coaches could be featured in an MTV documentary as part of a project actor Chris Pratt, a former Vikings wrestler, first envisioned six years ago.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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LAKE STEVENS — Chris Pratt didn't panic.

Drop 45 pounds in three months for a role in the Brad Pitt movie "Moneyball"? Piece of cake ... better make that celery.

" 'Oh, yeah, I can do that,' " Pratt told his agent. "He looked at me like I was crazy."

Pratt admits he can be a bit wacky, a side he shows in his role as Andy Dwyer in the TV series "Parks and Recreation." But the confidence came from lessons learned while wrestling for Lake Stevens High School,

"The sport of wrestling really changed my life for the better," said Pratt, who placed fifth at state at 215 pounds as a senior in 1997.

Now the lives of current Lake Stevens wrestlers and coaches could be featured in an MTV documentary as part of a project Pratt first envisioned six years ago.

A film crew has followed the team since turnouts began in November, focusing particularly on a half-dozen wrestlers and coach Brent Barnes. The climax comes Friday and Saturday as the Vikings challenge for the Class 4A state championship at Mat Classic XXIII in the Tacoma Dome.

The storybook ending would be an eighth team title for the storied Lake Stevens program, along with a few individual crowns, of course.

"What a better way to end this movie?" said director Fred Golding, a highly respected filmmaker who has been involved in dozens of sports documentaries and earned an Academy Award nomination for one on Hank Aaron.

Either way, Pratt and Golding believe they'll have a 90-minute movie worthy of the film-festival circuit, although MTV has the final say, since it has bankrolled the project at nearly $400,000.

"I keep telling everyone they need to lower their expectations," Pratt said. "There's no guarantee this is going to be on television or in the theaters. ... We're just trying to shine a light and microscope on something that was really interesting to me growing up, and hopefully there's a movie in there. I'd like to think there is."

Barnes thinks so, too, staunch in his belief that wrestling is a unique sport few really understand, one in which hard work and dedication sometimes outweigh pure athleticism.

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"You can get it done with hard work, and it's such an intense sport," he said. "There are probably more tears involved than there are in any other sport. It's very personal."

Golding has never seen anything like it.

"These individuals are completely dedicated to a sport that is far more demanding than any other sport I've ever shot," he said.

He marvels and the athletes' endurance levels, both physically and mentally.

"I'm here to capture these individuals at a very, very unique and, some could say, somewhat precarious time of their lives," Golding said.

He said his movie could do for wrestling what "Friday Night Lights" did for high-school football.

And Golding believes the eclectic Barnes has the perfect personality to push this movie over the top. While Barnes is passionate about wrestling, his life doesn't revolve around it. He reads philosophy and is writing a book about the challenges of coaching your own son (Burke Barnes was a four-time state champion for the Vikings). He plays guitar, cooks and makes wine.

"Lake Stevens is exceptional for many reasons," Golding said, "but the primary one is coach Barnes. ... I've interviewed a lot of coaches and they're obsessed with the X's and O's, but Brent is just not. He looks beyond the chalkboard, if you would, or the mat, into the lives of these kids."

Barnes, who has a master's degree in counseling but teaches physical education at Lake Stevens, provides a natural narrative track, according to Golding. Barnes has been miked up so many times, the tape has left a rash on his chest. At practice or at meets, that mic is never off.

"It's not easy," Barnes said. "You always have to be kind of on, and you have to know what's going on around you and what your kids are doing and what you're saying. You can't really relax, so it's stressful at the end of the day. But you sleep better, I think."

It took a while for the wrestlers to adjust to the production.

"At first it was kind of annoying," senior Ryan Rodorigo said. "They're kind of in our face. But I just got used to it and it doesn't bother me at all any more."

The film crew traveled with the team to the Tri-State tournament in Idaho over the holidays. Cameras were also in Pennsylvania in late January as the Vikings wrestled five dual meets in one day, and lost all five.

Rodorigo, who placed fifth at 119 last season and is considered a title contender this weekend, is among those featured in the documentary. Cameras not only follow the wrestlers during practice and matches, but in class, having dinner at home and hanging out with friends. Golding said the film likely will be one-third wrestling and two-thirds behind-the-scenes action.

"Ultimately, what I do as a filmmaker are character studies," he said. "I tend to focus on the, quote, team behind the sport."

In addition to the six males, four female wrestlers also have been featured, in part because a high population of MTV viewers are teenage girls, Golding said.

There has been no lack of story lines.

"There's always drama during any season on any team," Barnes said. "It doesn't matter if you're winning or losing."

Steven Walkley, a state contender at 140 and a featured wrestler, was academically ineligible for the first part of the season. Lake Stevens then lost one key competitor for violating the athletic code and another for health reasons after he suffered a seizure. In Pennsylvania, Eric Soler suffered a knee injury that could have ended his season wrestling at 112, but he is battling through it.

The team keeps bouncing back. Lake Stevens won titles at both subregionals and regionals, and goes for the big one this weekend. An editor from New York then will pour over the estimated 250 hours of film. It could take several months to get a final product to MTV, which then will decide its fate.

But no matter what happens to the film, the Vikings want a storybook ending at state.

Sandy Ringer: 206-718-1512 or sringer@seattletimes.com

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