By Betsy Veysman
When the organizers of the NYWAY Big Red Kickoff event said that fans would be treated to some incredible young talent, they weren’t just talking about local grapplers. Groups from several states, including 34 wrestlers from California, will supply some extra star power to the tournament, which will take place January 8 on the campus of Cornell University.
“We’re bringing a really strong team made up of most of our best kids,” said Ernie Ciaccio, the Director of SCWAY, who is leading the trip. “Pretty much everyone on the team is a state champ or a high state placer and they have done well at national events.”
Indeed they have. A partial roster provided by Ciaccio shows a plethora of champions and placers at Tulsa Nationals, Reno Worlds, the NUWAY Southwest Kickoff Classic (aka “The Freak Show”) and California States. The list also has many other impressive credentials. Here is a sample of just a few of the many standouts (resumes are not all inclusive):
- Jaron Chavez, earned the 95-pound title at the Southwest Kickoff Classic and has taken California gold. The Brentwood native has finished in the top four at Tulsa Nationals on at least three occasions and also was the runner up at Reno Nationals twice. Chavez was a regional and national champion in Greco and a multi-time All-American in freestyle.
- Navonte Demison, a California Elementary State Champ and Most Outstanding Wrestler recipient also was second at Reno Worlds in 2010 and 2011. He also took third at Reno on multiple occasions and was a TOC champion. The Bakersfield native is one of the very few wrestlers to have beaten Cade Olivas, the 11th ranked Junior High wrestler in the country according to Intermat. According to Ciaccio, Olivas is unable to compete because of an injury.
- Ryan Reyes earned the Cliff Keen Trinity Award at 67 pounds after winning the Cliff Keen Kickoff Classic, Tulsa Nationals and Reno Worlds in 2009. He also placed in the top four at Tulsa in 2010 and 2011 and finished in the top 3 at the Reno Worlds four times. The Fresno native also is a California State champion.
- Jake Ryan, who wrestles with the Oakdale Wrestling Club, has been a California State winner as well as a high placer several times at prestigious events such as Tulsa Nationals and Reno Worlds.
- Zander Silva of Alta Loma won the 85-pound title at the Southwest Kickoff Classic as well as multiple California state crowns. He also captured fifth at Reno Worlds and third at Junior Mid Cals while wrestling with USA Pounders Wrestling Club.
Both Chavez and Ryan captured titles, at 95 and 120 pounds respectively, at the Junior Mid Cals in Gilroy, California this past November, an event attended by several of the New York wrestlers who will be competing on January 8.
Now, according to Ciaccio, it’s his squad’s turn to come East. “We saw a lot of the tough New York kids at Gilroy a few months ago. They might not have known what to expect when they stepped off the plane, but they showed great resilience and the ability to adapt. They did really well at the Junior Mid Cals, with several champions and other finalists. The way they wrestled shows you a lot.”
Before the competitors from the Golden State get on the mat in Ithaca, they have some other things to attend to first. Ciaccio said the group will fly into New York City and spend some time in the Big Apple before going to Cumberland, Pennsylvania for a tournament. They then will drive to Western New York for the Big Red Kickoff Classic.
“We’re all really excited,” he said. “Part of the spirit of the trip is to allow the kids to see different parts of the East Coast. They’ll get a taste of the city, Pennsylvania and upstate New York. We also want the kids to experience some great Northeast wrestling. We know there’s lots of talent in that area and we’d like our kids to get exposure to it.”
And, as a bonus, they will also get a taste of some of the nation’s best college wrestling. In between the morning and afternoon sessions of the Big Red Kickoff Classic, the fourth-ranked Cornell squad will take on Lehigh in a clash of highly ranked teams.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to feel connected to college programs,” Ciaccio said. “We’re putting the kids in an environment where they see the highest level of folkstyle wrestling. Hopefully, they have the ambitions and dreams of getting there someday and wrestling for a team like the ones they’ll see.”
The talent is certainly there.