BY ERIN DOHERTY, CO-SPORTS EDITOR
Four years ago, it was a stretch to call the small collection of wrestlers at Wilson “the Wilson wrestling team.” But today, wrestling is an increasingly popular winter sport, and the wrestlers have become a real team, able to compete against the city’s top private schools.
In 2010, Coach Brandon Wims was well aware of the challenges of launching a new winter sport at Wilson. Predictably, initial interest was limited: just five wrestlers were on the inaugural team. But Wims, a former wrestler, was undaunted, seeing many possible benefits from this ancient sport.
“It’s another winter sport where kids can compete, learn valuable life lessons, and get in shape,” Wims said. But the first group was not just short-handed; for practice, they did not even have a regular place at Wilson and had to go to Maret School.
“The team has a mix of veterans and first-time wrestlers, and even girls”
Today, the wrestling team’s numbers have grown, and success has followed. The team now has 30 wrestlers, six times the number four years ago. The team has a mix of veterans and first-time wrestlers, and even girls.
Junior Shrysthaley “Cristal” Velasquez is one of the three girls on the team. This season marks the beginning of her second year as a wrestler, and she is more committed than ever. Last winter, Velasquez decided that she was ready to start something new. She was used to wrestling with her brother, so she decided to give the Wilson wrestling team a try. Velasquez began wrestling in matches against boys.
Understandably, before her first match, Velasquez said, “I felt very nervous. I got emotionally attached to my performance and the sport.” Since her first match, Velasquez has improved her game and has become more connected to the team. “The coaches pay attention to everybody equally, and want us to improve,” Velasquez said. Joining the wrestling team has taught Velasquez about her capability as a girl to compete with boys, and her confidence and physical strength have improved greatly. Wrestling put her on an equal playing field, she said, and she has learned not to “be scared to do things because you’re a girl.”
Along with its trailblazing females, the team is thriving with interest, commitment and dedication. “The future is bright, there are a lot of underclassmen, the program is continuing to grow,” Wims explained. Sophomore Sam Alten is the kind of athlete who takes advantage of an opportunity to try a new sport. Having previously only played soccer, he found the physical demands of wrestling different from anything he had experienced. However, adjusting to the team was quite easy with the help of his teammates.
“All the guys who wrestled last year welcomed all the new guys with open arms and helped us out with a lot of stuff,” Alten said.
The 2014-2015 wrestling season is well underway, and the Tigers have already competed against four teams. Being the only DC public school with a wrestling team, the Tigers compete against private school teams, many of which have had a program for years. Ironically, the team beat Maret, the school that once hosted Wilson wrestling practices. It has been defeated by Sidwell and St. Anselm’s.
The Tigers are not worried as “it’s still early in the season and [we] have things to work on, but so far everything’s looking good for our team,” senior and co-captain Sean Schwartz explained.
The athletes and coaches are committed to creating a base level of fitness, and the team often practices six days a week. A typical practice includes running sprints, learning new moves, and practicing wrestling techniques.
All of this work builds team chemistry. “All the kids get along great,” Wims said. “It’s awesome seeing the little guy (lighter weight) wrestling around with the bigger guy (heavier weight). All of them hold one another accountable.”
“The wrestling team is now turning to the Wilson community to get support and recognition.”
With committed coaches, captains, and athletes, the wrestling team is now turning to the Wilson community to get support and recognition. With matches scheduled most weeks, there is ample opportunity to support these hard-working student athletes.
“We are continuing to grow and would love to have anyone who is interested to come out and join the team,” Wims said.
“It’s been hard, but rewarding and fun too,” Alten added. The Tigers will take on Glenelg Country School on December 16, so be sure to root for the Tigers.
PHOTOS BY NICK GIRDIS