By Sophia Ricco
Once a child develops a love for a sport, it becomes a physical activity that teaches them not just technique and endurance, but skills that will stay with them for a lifetime.
The Wildcat Youth Wrestling Club’s mission is to form the kids into lifetime wrestlers with a positive outlook on this challenging sport. After being exposed to wrestling at a young age, the club’s coach Michael McGuinness said kids naturally progress to join junior high and varsity wrestling teams.
“This sport is a marathon, more than a sprint,” McGuinness said. “What we’re concerned about is teaching the kids to be champions on the mat through high school and champions in life.”
The Wildcats goal is to create a “wrestling culture” in the South Huntington school district. The school district has a strong wrestling tradition aided by the Wildcats work with younger students. The club starts teaching the basics to kids as early as kindergarten, and continues until eight grade.
“We start them young, learning basic fundamentals in a good atmosphere,” McGuinness said.
The Wildcats consist of 60 junior wrestlers, and McGuinness hopes at least half of them fall in love with the sport and stick with it through high school.
“It’s about creating a culture and building a foundation for these kids, but also having fun and teaching them to give back,” McGuinness said.
For the boys who continue wrestling at Walt Whitman High School, their time spent together on the mat as children intensifies their connections.
“The hard work they put in during practice and the fun they’re having, will definitely strengthen their bonds that will hold on to throughout their school years and beyond,” McGuinness said.
During the team’s first competition at the East Meadow Tournament on Dec. 30, the Wildcats cheered each other on. Ryan Maoriana came out as a champion and Jack Tripoli, Lucas Ryan, Jackson Cruise, and Michael McGuinness earned runner-up in their weight class.
“They get a little bit of competition to reinforce what we teach them on the mat and put themselves in that pressure environment where it’s just them out there and they have to perform,” McGuinness said.
The club’s next competition is this weekend at the East Islip Tournament. McGuinness, along with coaches Frank Tripoli, Michael Engel and Chris Oberding will evaluate each child’s abilities before putting them into a match-up to ensure that they are ready.
“We don’t stress competition as much as learning technique, having fun and being positive,” McGuinness said. “Wrestling is a tough sport, it’s not like any other sport.”
The Wildcats season will culminate at their annual Saint Patrick’s day Wrestling Festival on March 16 at Walt Whitman High School. Last year’s festival attracted 350 youth wrestlers.
“This is the capstone event of the season,” McGuinness said. “If you want to see everyone compete, even if someone hasn’t competed this season, we want to get everyone on the mat and apply what they’ve learned.”
The wrestling festival also acts as a fundraiser for the Walt Whitman varsity wrestling team, raising money for uniforms, training camp sponsorships and a senior scholarship. High school wrestlers are in charge of setting up and running the tournament, setting an example for the younger students by donating their time.
“Wrestling is the type of sport that you try to give back to it, because of all that it has given you,” McGuinness said.
McGuinness grew up wrestlingin South Huntington, and feels he learned a lot about hard work and perseverance during that time. He would later go on to aid the formation of the Wildcat Youth Wrestling Club under Whitman legend, Vin Altebrando.
As Whitman’s head varsity wrestling coach for 24 years prior to his unexpected passing, Altebrando oversaw and influenced South Huntington’s wrestling programs. He would leave his mark by forming the Wildcats and lives on through the many lives he touched. This is the first season the club has gone on without him. But he will not be forgotten by wrestlers, who know their involvement honors his legacy.
“He prioritized the program, which made everyone even more committed to honoring his legacy and carrying on what he started,” McGuinness said.
Children that are interested in wrestling can still join the club this season by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.