Young Stars Look to the Future at NYWAY Big Red Kickoff

By Betsy Veysman

“There was so much great wrestling, it was non-stop,” said Izaak Olenjik, a youth wrestler from California.  “It was such a great experience.”

Olenjik, who won his 78-83 pound bracket, was one of 200 youth grapplers who were treated to a day full of high level wrestling on January 8 at Newman Arena on the campus of Cornell University.

The action began with the NYWAY Big Red Kickoff, a tournament for wrestlers ranging from 5 to 14 years old.  Competitors included Olenick’s group of more than 20 from the Golden State as well as wrestlers from Michigan, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

“We’re really happy we came out here,” said Zander Silva, a Californian who competed in the 67-82 pound class. “The competition has been very good.  It’s great to get tough matches in against guys you don’t usually wrestle.”

Silva, a Reno Worlds placewinner and Southwest Kickoff Classic champ, was one of the many highly acclaimed youth grapplers on the mats.  Looking around the room, a wrestling fan could see YouTube sensation Stevo Poulin showing his array of moves in the 50-53 pound class for 9/10 year olds along with champion Joseph Manno of New Jersey.  Or a fan could witness Michigan star Devin Schroder, a Super 32 and Grappler Fall Classic Middle School champion, in a triple overtime battle with Durbin Lloren, a Reno Worlds title winner from California, among many other bouts filled with future stars.

“The quality of wrestling was definitely high,” said State NYWAY President Clint Wattenberg, adding that he was hoping for a slightly larger turnout. “The representation from different parts of the country was great.  I saw some of the California kids and some of the best kids in New York take some losses.  These are kids who rarely lose.  Exposing our local wrestlers to wrestlers of this caliber is a really big part of our mission at NYWAY.”

NYWAY is just over six months old, according to Wattenberg, and is now over 2240 members strong.  He believes that the tournament showed glimpses of what the organization will be able to provide.

“The event wasn’t as seamless as we would have hoped,” he said. “But we gave people an understanding of what we’re trying to do to support folkstyle development in the state. We also were able to engage representatives from some of the areas in New York we hadn’t reached yet.”

The highlight of the day for many of the Big Red Kickoff participants was watching #4 Cornell defeat #12 Lehigh 24-12 in a clash of the EIWA’s top two teams in between the morning and afternoon sessions of the tournament.

“Having the Cornell dual was important,” Wattenberg said. “There was a high level of energy and I think it got the kids excited.  They saw that they could be in the shoes of the college wrestlers and that the sport can be a part of their lives in the future.”

The enthusiasm was apparent as the Cornell wrestlers signed autographs and posed for pictures with the youth wrestlers, as well as other fans, for nearly an hour after the dual with the Mountain Hawks ended.

“The scrambles the college guys get into are really cool,” Silva said. “The matches are so intense the whole time.  It was great to watch.“

“I thought it was so much fun to watch Cornell because they are my favorite team and it is amazing to watch college wrestlers,” added 10-year old Matthew LaPorte of New York.  “I can learn from how good Steve Bosak was in all positions and from how Kyle Dake wrestled.”

Big Red Kickoff Classic Champions:


5/6 Year Old Division

Ashton Seymour                    37-44

Julien Griffith                         50-55

Nicholas Caiati                       65-72


7/8 Year Old Division

Graham Rowland                  49-53

Alex Ramirez                          58-64

Cooper Kropman                  65-72

Cuinn Burlingham                77-92

Charlie Tibbitts                     93-103


9/10 Year Old Division

Joseph Manno                       50-53

Will Grater                             58-60

Chad Sakamoto                     62-64

Max Kropman                       66-69

Dean Shambo                         70-75

Zachary Williams                   77-79

Benny Baker                          80-84

Nicholas Noel                         84-94

Guillermo Escobedo              99-108


11/12 Year Old Division

Jesse Vasquez                       62-70

Kevin Spann                          70-75

Nate Nordin                           75-78

Izzak Olenjik                          78-83

Ethan Leake                           85-88

Nico Mattia                             93-98

Ryan Reyes                            99-105

Patrick Ramirez                     106-112

Frankie Gissendanner          120-133

Dominic Nassivera                142-148


13/15 Year Old Division

Dane Heberlein                     67-82

Alexander Hrisopoulos         84-90

Kai Kramer                            88-94

Evan Wick                              95-99

Zander Wick                          100-105

Devin Schroder                     105-110

Joel Rees                                 114-121

Jake Ryan                               124-133

Devon Pingel                         138-155

Max Dean                               164-176


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