Professional wrestling may seem like an act inside the ring, but the impact of the Invasion Championship Wrestling events as fundraisers for families in need is very real.
This weekend, the ICW group will stage its annual fall wrestling card in both Kelowna and Vernon, with the charity beneficiaries being the Okanagan Boys’ and Girls’ Club, $3,000, and Okanagan YMCA Strong Kids program, $4,000, in Kelowna; and the North Okanagan Neurological Association autism house in Vernon.
|Rhonda Zakala, with the Okanagan YMCA, accepts donation from Invasion Championship Wrestling for $3,000, presented by Mike Rizzo (left) and Mike Chisholm.|
Rhonda Zakala, with the Okanagan YMCA, said since the wrestling events began in 2014, $30,000 has been raised for the Y, which has directly benefited 280 children living in poverty or low-income family situations to access Y membership services from recreation programs to after-school care.
“Those are dollars that are changing people’s lives,” said Zakala.
Jarrod Stocker, with the Okanagan Boys’ and Girls’ Club, said the $35,000 in wrestling event proceed donations they have received has made possible the purchase of a 12-seat van, upgrade of washroom facilities at Westside Youth Centre and a maintenance service truck.
|Donation of $4,000 accepted by Jarrod Stocker (second from right) on behalf of Okanagan Boys’ and Girls’ Club. Photo: Barry Gerding/Black Press|
Mike Rizzo, the driving force behind the Invasion Championship Wrestling along with organizing partner Mike Chisholm, said hearing how kids benefit from the wrestling hi-jinks in the ring strikes a personal note of satisfaction for him.
“For me it’s about starting out at the grassroots level to try and help kids out, to be off the street and be active in sports or other activities,” said Rizzo.
“In my opinion, kids who have those experiences growing up learn to be more resourceful and be better members of society when they grow up. We want to do what we can to help all kids grow up to be productive adults.”
To date, Invasion Wrestling has raised more than $200,000 for local charities since 2013.
The revenue is generated from ticket sales, concession stands and sponsorship support, as Rizzo says now the wrestling cards draw about 1,000 people between Kelowna and Vernon.
“Basically, from all the money we take in, we pay out for the hall rentals, insurance, pay the wrestlers and for their travel, all the money left over, the net proceeds, is donated to charity,” Rizzo said.
For Rizzo, the wrestling card takes on an added dimension since he is an active participant in the proceedings playing a bad guy character, something he has been doing for some 20 years.
“It’s about as much fun as you can imagine,” he said. “Personally, I am a regular, everyday dad with five kids, who volunteers with kids’ activities at school, but when the lights go out and the music starts at a wrestling event, the wrestling persona takes over and I become the most hated guy in the building.
“The fun about it is you can create a character that completely suspends people’s disbelief, people buy into it, you get a reaction good or bad which says you have done the right thing.
“You get people hooked and if you have ever been a performer in acting or sports, extracting that belief from a crowd provides you with a rush of adrenaline that is hard to describe or compare to anything else. You just feed off that energy.”
Besides Rizzo, headling the match card will be WWE wrestling legend Tommy Dreamer, two members of the Midget Wrestling Warriors and a number of local favourites including Mad Dog Marty Sugar, ShreadZ, King Khash and the tag team duo Cougar Meat.
And in keeping with the publicity hype tradition of wrestling, Rizzo also cited the wrestling community’s support of Mayor Colin Basran in the civic election, which Rizzo says Basran earned by wacking him across the back with a kendo stick in the last Invasion Wrestling event.
“He was a smart guy to hitch a wagon to my tail,” Rizzo pronounced. “He basically took advantage of my popularity in the wrestling community to win over their support in the election. So I say now I am directly responsible for Colin getting elected to a second term as mayor
“So congrats to you Mr. Basran…you are welcome.”
The Invasion Wrestling card, titled ‘Nightmare on Dream Street,’ will take place Friday, Oct. 26, 7:30 p.m. at Rutland Centennial Hall. The Vernon card, tagged ‘Extreme Dream,’ takes place Saturday, Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m., at Vernon Rec Centre and will include a meet-and-greet session with the wrestlers prior to the event.