City Wrestlers Compete In Mayor’s Cup Tournament
An outstanding citywide wrestling event took place recently at the 369th Regiment Armory in Harlem. Upon entering the main floor, you could hear the yelps, claps, and clamor of hundreds of young wrestlers who were in qualifying rounds of the Mayor’s Cup, an important meet for those interested in the sport of wrestling. This meet had the feel of a wrestling fair, with coaches, wrestlers, teams of wrestlers, and parents milling about. In one corner a vendor was selling T-shirts, and another setup had training sessions where you could improve your wrestling techniques.
The Mayor’s Cup has become an annual intra-city event in which top wrestlers from all across the city can compete against each other. The tournament is the result of the efforts of a number of groups who make up the growing wrestling community in the city. The New York City Sports Commission, the Metropolitan Wrestling Association, the Beat the Streets program, and the Public School Athletic League are among the sponsoring participants.
What makes this event so special is to see the hundreds of youngsters from middle school to high school competing in the event. “Every kid here is a winner, every single kid, whether they win or lose today,” said coach Eddie McColgan of the Petrides team from Staten Island.
The competition on this day was to whittle down the large number of wrestlers vying for a title match, which was scheduled to be held the next day. New York City wrestlers and coaches look forward to the Mayor’s Cup all season. “I think this meet is doing better things every year,” said wrestling coach Ned Campbell of James Madison High School. “This is a big weekend every year. This is a weekend my wrestlers have to put on their calendar right away.” Campbell stressed that just to pick the wrestlers to come to the tournament is an acknowledgment. “[It] means I think you can place in the top 8,” said Campbell.
The day really belongs to the wrestlers, some of whom are new to the sport and are learning the ropes. One wrestler, Michael Williams of the Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, is a middle-school student. He said a gym teacher recently started the wrestling program at his school and that he joined this past year. He said he was getting used to it and wanted to see how he matched up against opponents in his 120-pound weight class.
Williams brought a 7-1 record into the meet. “I’m hoping I’ll get first place and do my best,” he said. “I think I’m ready.”
John Welch, the president of the Metropolitan Wrestling Association, has been around the mats for many years. He was a member of the 1964 U.S. Olympic men’s wrestling team. “That’s where you either win or learn a lot. I learned a lot.” Welch worked on the New Jersey Executive Committee in wrestling for 12 years. He was also involved with the 1992 U.S. Olympic wrestling team. Last year at the Mayor’s Cup, a parent came up to him and said, “This is the best thing my kid ever did.” He said that for him to hear that, after having been involved in the sport for about 50 years, was “heartwarming.”
Beat the Streets, a nonprofit program, is making a difference in this year’s meet. Brian Griffin, the program’s president and executive director, said his program is structured to have kids use wrestling as a way to go to college. “The lessons you learn on the mat carry over to the classroom,” said Griffin. Beat the Streets stresses good academics, proper health, and nutrition. “Active children is what we are looking for,” said Griffin. His program now reaches 150 schools and involves over 5,000 students. Griffin said his group works closely with the P.S.A.L. “We work hand in hand. It’s a great partnership.”
Michael Polo, 17, a junior at Aviation High School in Queens, won his match and felt pretty good about the outcome. “It’s a pride and privilege to be at an event like this,” said Polo. #