by Mark DiLiberto
Often a team’s success is predicated upon numbers. In essence, the more athletes a team fields
the better its competition in practice. Practices generally are more intense, and wrestlers have the opportunity to experience multiple “looks” against a variety of grappling styles. The GAR High School wrestling program, however, is an exception to this rule. To comprise a full lineup, a team needs thirteen wrestlers in specific weight classes ranging from 106 pounds to 285 pounds. The Heights wrestling program rosters a mere six wrestlers, only one per class. Coaches Rick Simon and Jay Lavelle seek to instill the traits of toughness, resilience, hard work, and commitment. The Grenadiers have been bucking the trend all year, despite diminishing participants. Senior wrestler Elijah Gresham, touting a 19-6 record, has concluded that the success stems from being competitive. “We may lack numbers, but we can bring it to anyone,” he touts. Coach Lavelle insists, “It’s their attitude. They want to win,” to which
Coach Simon adds, “It’s something that is in them,” and emphasizes that he and Coach Lavelle are steadfast in motivating and encouraging their athletes to win. Both coaches give much credit to their Junior High counterparts. “The Junior High coaches taught them a lot regarding technique,” Simon enthuses.
So, what makes this year’s team different from previous iterations? According to Coach Simon, “The kids are really passionate about the sport and making a name for themselves as wrestlers. Every year we try to get better as coaches, but it really comes down to the kids. We’ve really been lucky to inherit a good group of kids.” Similarly, Coach Lavelle claims, “The young men are willing to work hard. When they lose, they understand they have to be willing to outwork their opponents.” As expected, Elijah Gresham holds sentiments corresponding to his coaches’. Gresham remarks that the team’s successes may be attributed to “the fact that we all hate losing. We are all like brothers to each other. It’s a brotherly environment. We don’t get that with most teams.”
It’s equally important to contemplate what GAR Wrestling represents: what’s the motto of the program? The answer offered by the coaches is simply “determination.” Coach Lavelle explains, “They understand it’s a team sport in some respect, but they are still able to achieve their goals and strive to be the best in their weight class.” Gresham once again is in agreement and maintains that “determination” is the mindset that best represents himself and GAR Wrestling.
During Elijah’s years with the team he’s learned many things from both his teammates and coaches. “Doing your best at everything, never giving up, and putting your best foot forward,” are some of the important lessons that have remained with him. When asked how he could apply these lessons to life off the mat, Elijah is quick to respond. “It’s not very hard. I do so good in wrestling because I do so good in life. If you believe that you can do good in life, everything else falls into place.”
Unfortunately, at the century-old Heights section high school, the changes in sporting culture have seemingly reduced interest in the individual-focused sport. During the 1990’s and early- to mid-2000’s, one would find perhaps twenty wrestlers engaging each other on the practice mats. Because of the increased popularity of football and basketball, however fewer student/athletes are choosing to wrestle. Consequently, every member of the team bears increasing importance. “Since we have such a small team,” notes Elijah, “everyone is very important. When one of us loses, we sit him down and work on some stuff with everyone. If it’s a mistake or an attitude problem, we fix it. We help each other.” With low numbers, wrestlers may not get as many looks, however, they benefit in other ways. Coach Lavelle emphasizes that “there’s no hiding in the [weight] room.” Coach Simon adds, “It’s discouraging and tough, but it allows for more critique and coaching. It can be a recipe for success, in terms of individual improvement.”
On the whole, GAR has four of its six team members touting records of twenty-plus wins, while the remaining two wrestlers are hard-nosed with much upside. The team is sure to have numerous district champions this year, in addition to having a few of the grapplers qualify for the P.I.A.A. State Tournament in March. Look for A.J. Luton, Zachary Faust, Jamaar Taylor, and Elijah Gresham to contend for district titles in their respective weigh classes. Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t strength in numbers at GAR Instead, the Grenadier Wrestling team finds strength in camaraderie, heart, and determination.