SALAMANCA — The Salamanca Youth Wrestling program made some history this season.
Salamanca will send 10 wrestlers to the state championships this weekend, a program record. Representing Salamanca will be Brycen Bialaszewski, Stryker Brown, Ryder Clees, Jacob Coban, Logan Coban, Luke Coban, Isaiah Fisher, Kasen Hardy, Conner Seeley and Wyatt Tanner.
The state championships are set for Saturday and Sunday at SUNY Brockport.
“As long as I've been here, the most we've ever sent to states was six,” head coach Miguel Otero said. “So these guys, we set out a goal to get the whole advance squad there and a few of them didn't place, a few of them lost out on credentials. But they've been a forceful squad, a squad to be reckoned with this year. A lot of times we were placing in the top five. I think we brought home four team trophies this year. They've been strong and working hard.”
The program runs for wrestlers age 4-12, though some older wrestlers occasionally join the team for travel tournaments. Modified wrestlers Emily and Lehman Brown will accompany the team to compete in an older division at states.
Otero had four assistant coaches this season: Dennis Brown, Ward John, Paul Oakes and Darrick Seeley.
“We all had the same goal in mind and that's to turn these kids into real good positive role models,” Otero said of the coaching staff. “Wrestling's secondary here, in my eyes, it's about these kids knowing that they've always got somebody in their corner. If they see that love, they'll always go to bat for you just as much as you got to bat for them.”
The youth wrestling season is one of the longest for any sport, lasting from October to April.
“They started out strong at the beginning, in the middle we kind of got tired and flattened out and at the end they picked it right back up like nothing ever happened,” Otero said. “It's been an all-around good year. The brackets are tough this year, as small as the brackets are, there's some tough kids in there and every kid has one or two nemeses in their age group.”
The long season requires dedication from the wrestlers, and from the coaches.
“It's a passion for the sport,” Oakes said. “Seeing a group of people come together in your community and showing these kids discipline, I love it.”
Brown said he’s impressed with “all the kids” for the commitment they’ve shown to get to the end of the season wrestling strong.
“We started out with a big group when I first came to the first practice and just from my wrestling experience, I knew that would winnow down,” Brown said. “No matter what level of wrestling you're at, it's a tough sport. I think it's the toughest sport in the world. It's long, it's grueling and guys will drop out. That happened with this group, but all of our kids that qualified for states have been there since day one. Most of them don't miss a single practice. They're here, they're always ready to work.
“Watching them go through all the trials and tribulations of wrestling when they're getting beat in a match and they cry or some of them have their moments, but watching them deal with that and come back whether it's practice or a tournament, they come back ready for the next match or the next practice, it says a lot about who they're going to become as people.”
Brown said he enjoys coaching wrestling for how it teaches accountability to youngsters.
“Once you step out on the mat, it's just you, whether you win or lose or how you conduct yourself and how you perform is all based on you,” he said. “You can't blame the quarterback for throwing an interception, you can't blame the referee for making a bad call, it's all on you, you're accountable for how you perform on the mat. I think that's huge for kids at six, seven, eight years old. There's no other sport that teaches kids all those qualities in life.”