By Carrie Parker
Members of the Half Hollow Hills high schools East’s and West’s wrestling team learned to sweat the details last Thursday at a two-hour clinic run by Olympic-caliber wrestlers hailing from West Point Academy.
Perspiration is nothing new to the high schoolers, who wrestle six days a week, a grueling regimen Hills West’s varsity wresting heading coach Joe Scholz calls “the grind.” But with wrestling champions Sgt. Ryan Mango and Pvt. Jenna Burkert leading, the teams were challenged to take their sport to the next level.
“This is about discipline and little details,” Mango instructed the athletes, as their bodies slammed down on the mat in thunderous succession during a sprawl exercise. “The little stuff won me matches, so work on it and make sure you write it down.”
Mango and Burkert, who both joined the Army in 2015, have an impressive list of athletic achievements. Mango is a 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials bronze medalist in men’s Greco-Roman wrestling. Burkert is 2016 U.S. National Champion in women’s freestyle wrestling.
“It’s not every day you get taught by high-caliber athletes,” Scholz said. Hills East’s varsity wrestling head coach Bill Davey agreed. Davey said he hoped the clinic would let his team “see another side of wrestling” and keep them engaged in the sport.
The clinic also served another purpose, according to Half Hollow Hills Director of Physical Education Patrick Murphy.
“Part of this is a recruitment piece to get [West Point’s] name out there,” he explained. After the clinic, each student gave their name, age and email and indicated whether they have an interest in the military.
Burkert and Mango kept the session fast-paced but still took the time to break down each maneuver. When athletes paired off to try it themselves, Burkert and Mango gave one-on-one feedback. They emphasized moving with a purpose, having a crisp, clean finish, nailing positions and, of course, focusing on the “little details.”
Mango explained that the idea was not for the students to get everything but to take one or two small things and make it their own. “The purpose is to expose them to as much as possible so they can write it down and work on it later,” Mango said.
The wrestling room at High School East, where the clinic was held, was packed with over 50 male athletes. Also among them was Hills West freshman Nicole Kaplan, who started wrestling three years ago.
“I don’t care if I wrestle against a guy,” Kaplan said when asked what it was like to be the only girl in the room. “I just want to win.”
At the end, Kaplan said she wasn’t as exhausted as she’d thought she’d be.
“It was fun,” she said with a smile.
Hills West senior Kenny Peters said he was taking away “new techniques and new skills,” adding that he liked the clinic because it was “detailed.”
“We stressed this all across the island: It’s the little things,” Burkert said to the group before they dispersed. “Are you doing everything you can to be a champion?”