HARWICH ─ Marcus De La Vega comes from a town with a rich history of wrestling. Indeed, Port Jervis, N.Y. was the home of Olympic gold medalists Lou and Ed Banach. Now, De La Vega is bringing the sport to Monomoy Regional High School, currently through a club that he hopes will evolve into a full-fledged varsity program.
“It's something I've always been involved in,” said De La Vega, a physical education teacher at MRHS, “at any school or school district since I've been in high school. I couldn't walk around Monomoy without giving a program an honest try.”
De La Vega is quick to dispel the myths attached to preconceived notions about competitive wrestling and issues a firm reminder that it's nothing like what people see on pay-per-view. Instead, high school wrestling is much less about improbable finishing moves and more focused on its athletes developing skills across many platforms.
“It checks all the boxes – strength, endurance, flexibility, and just this grit that I don't think other sports really tap into,” De La Vega said. “Mentally it takes a lot of self-discipline, and a lot of mental fortitude. You don't need one more than another, so there's a really good balance there.”
De La Vega credits the sport for helping him find his focus as a student athlete.
“I was 100 pounds when I was a freshman in high school,” he said. “I got a varsity letter. I got to go to a state tournament. I got to be a champion. I got to have my name in the paper. At 100 pounds I couldn't do that with football or basketball no matter how tough I was, and I was a tough kid.”
That wrestling is a sport anyone can take part in is one of the aspects that appeals to De La Vega and his club members most.
“It's a sport that speaks to everyone,” De La Vega said. “You can be 100 pounds, 250 pounds, or anything in between, and there's equality to it. It's individual, but it's also a team sport. I think that's special and unique to the sport. I think it's the most challenging sport high school has to offer.”
When Monomoy senior Jon Frisbie found out about the club he jumped at the chance to join.
“We haven't had a wrestling program at Monomoy yet,” he said. “I've been doing combat sports my entire life, so it was just a perfect fit. I was really excited to join.”
Frisbie said what appeals to him is that aforementioned aspect of being an individual competitor on a unified team.
“It's your body trying to overpower somebody else's body,” he said. “If you fail, it's not like a team sport. It's all on you. It's a lot of self discipline.”
If wrestling had been an option sooner in Frisbie's high school career, he'd have definitely been involved.
“I know if I was a freshman I would have joined right away,” he said. “Who knows where I could be right now if I had started freshman year.”
Freshman Andrew Davock is hopeful that he and the other younger wrestlers in the club are establishing a program foundation. Davock was drawn to the sport for various reasons.
“I like martial arts and getting active and doing more sports,” he said. “I like the physical mindset of wrestling. Of pushing yourself farther than you thought possible and overcoming your personal boundaries and borders. I want this to become a varsity sport so we can travel and play different teams and hopefully win a championship.”
“I love how active it is,” said eighth-grader Christian Lapinski. “I love being active and I thought this would be a lot of fun.”
“Athletically it's pretty intense,” said De La Vega. “You're out there, the other person's out there and all your skill is out there for the world to see. That's a tough pill to swallow, but it's also amazing when you win. It's just you. Your work, your reward.”
That said, wrestling can be an option for athletes lacking the size and/or speed to compete in other sports, such as football, basketball, or ice hockey. De La Vega has seen it positively impact the lives of student athletes who, without wrestling, would never have participated in a sport.
“I've seen kids who, when they first started, didn't look like they could put one foot in front of the other,” he said. “Then they leave a champion.”
The bonds between teammates, De La Vega said, are lasting.
“It's something that stays with them,” he said. “Once you're a wrestler, you're always a wrestler.”
While there is certainly interest in the Monomoy program – the club has roughly a dozen members so far – there are challenges involved, specifically around cost and program numbers.
“Wrestling is sneaky expensive,” said De La Vega. “The mat is expensive and uniforms can be expensive. That's my biggest hurdle right now, aside from numbers.”
Ideally, De La Vega wants to create a roster of at least 30 wrestlers.
“I want to have a healthy program that has enough kids where we can fill a full lineup,” he said. “Then you have kids in every weight class that can train with each other.”
Becoming a full-fledged program will allow wrestlers to compete in local meets against area schools with similar programs, such as Nauset and Barnstable, as well as in non-school competitions that help athletes further develop skills. De La Vega said the opportunities are many.
“It doesn't matter who you are, you get opportunities to compete at every level,” he said. “It doesn't matter if you're JV, the fourth guy in your weight class, or a varsity guy. You're going to get as much mat time as you want. There are tons of opportunities.”
For now, De La Vega and his charges will keep plugging away in their club, but with sights set on a true varsity program.
“I'm a varsity coach,” De La Vega said. “I won't be happy until we're a varsity team, and a good varsity team. And I can do that.”