By Betsy Veysman
There are many stars who will take the mat on Sunday afternoon at Clarkstown South High School for the Second Annual NY/NJ Charity Challenge, but only one match features two wrestlers who are both nationally ranked and undefeated state champions.
At 152 pounds, Long Beach’s Dylan Palacio and Trenton Central’s Raamiah Bethea will square off to see who experiences a loss for the first time in quite a while.
The pair met at the NHSCA Sophomore Nationals in Virginia Beach in 2010, with Palacio winning a 5-3 decision at 145 pounds. Palacio admits that it was a long time ago, but believes much has stayed the same.
“My mentality hasn’t changed,” he said. “He’s a pretty straightforward wrestler, similar to [former Willingboro, NJ wrestler] James Green in a lot of ways. He shoots a lot of singles and doubles. I like to think I have great leg defense.”
Palacio, who will drop to 152 after winning his state crown at 160 pounds, also believes his pace was significant in the last meeting. “I was able to push the pace against Bethea and get him really tired the last time we wrestled. I think I can do it again. That’s my style – I like to make people exhausted and break them. I guarantee it will be six hard minutes of wrestling.”
The aforementioned James Green, who became a true freshman All-American last weekend at NCAAs for Nebraska, defeated Palacio in last spring’s NY/NJ Charity Challenge.
Returning for another shot was a no-brainer for the Long Beach standout.
“Last year I lost in the state semis and I was really angry. I had so much motivation and nowhere to use it,” Palacio said. “I was asked to wrestle Green at the Charity Challenge and I welcomed the opportunity. This year, the spot was rightfully mine in the New York lineup. It wasn’t just passed to me because someone else couldn’t go. I wanted to come back, especially for such good causes.”
Those good causes, Pinning Down Autism and The Adam Frey Foundation, will benefit from the proceeds of the event.
“Those charities do great things,” Palacio said. “There’s no better feeling than helping to raise money for them. I’m also happy to help out [Pinning Down Autism founder and event organizer] Jason Bross, someone I respect so much. He is so dedicated and puts in so much time to help with autism and promote wrestling.”
One thing the charity challenge is sure to promote is the rivalry between the bordering states. In last year’s event, Team New York came out on top in the dual. Palacio believes some have counted his team out this time, but he isn’t one of them.
“It’s for New York pride,” he said. “We’re not just wrestling for ourselves, we’re wrestling for state supremacy, to see who’s the best. On paper, we may have less talent but we don’t have less heart. They may come in cocky, but we think we’ll show them it’s our house.”
For Palacio, this weekend is also another opportunity to get some work in on the way to his last major high school goal – winning a national title at the NHSCA Senior Nationals in Virginia Beach in early April.
“I’ve placed there in the past,” he said. “I took third last year and was incredibly disappointed. It really drove me towards this year. I wanted to win Eastern States, be ranked nationally and win the state title. I did all those things. But I have to go out on top; I need some closure.”
After getting closure, Palacio will move on to the next chapter of his career. He said that he hasn’t decided on his destination yet, but the leaders are Cornell and Hofstra although he’s even considering going to a prep school for a year. But first he looks forward to going to battle with his New York teammates for state pride and charity. He can’t wait to be on the big stage.
“Someone told me they might move our match to the last match of the day,” Palacio said. “That would make everything more exciting and worthwhile. I’m really looking forward to it.”