A Champion and a Worthy Cause: VHW Teams Up With Watertown Wrestling to Help Keep the Program Alive

In 2008, Watertown wrestling celebrated a New York State champion as Luke Bohn brought home the gold at 135 pounds for the Section 3 school.

Just two years later, however, the program was removed from the budget.  But head coach Chris Adams and the wrestling community weren’t ready to let go.

“The school cut wrestling and field hockey at the same time,” Adams said. “They said it was about the numbers, but we had decent numbers. It was outrageous.  The field hockey team disbanded, but we weren’t going to do that.”

So, it was fundraising time.  According to Adams, the squad has to come up with around $6,000 each year to cover all costs, including entry fees to events and transportation.  (Adams said the coaching staff works as volunteers for the school team and at a local club).

“It gets harder and harder every year because we’re asking the same people to help; doing the same fundraisers,” Adams said.

A new opportunity emerged earlier this spring, however.  When Adams was in Indianapolis coaching the New York team at the Schoolboy Nationals, he told Watertown’s story to World champion and Olympic medalist Vougar Oroudjov, who was there with his son Vito, a New York State runner up at 99 pounds as an eighth grader.

“I heard about their problems with the budget and said I would come and do a clinic for free to try to help,” Oroudjov said. “It’s important to keep wrestling teams going so we promised to help out.”

Oroudjov brought five of the wrestlers from his Long Island club, Vougar’s Honors Wrestling (VHW), up to Watertown and back last Friday, to ensure they’d be back in time for Saturday’s Summer Heat event at Hofstra.

“It was amazing for him to drive six hours there on Friday, do the clinic and then drive six hours back that night,” Adams said. “It was a huge favor for us and he was great. Local kids weren’t used to that style of wrestling and it was a huge hit with the wrestlers who were there. It was great that the kids got to learn a lot and meet someone like Vougar. The clinic made a bit of a dent financially.”

Adams said that the money raised will help some wrestlers enter local tournaments, but there is still plenty of work to do.

“Our chicken barbecue is usually our big fundraiser,” Adams said. “We had it in June and it was highly successful.  Sometimes important causes come up. We have a modified wrestler who suffered a concussion in December and wasn’t able to go back to school the rest of the year.  He needs to travel back and forth to doctors a lot and we donated funds for him and his family.”

The campaign continues on for Adams and Watertown wrestling.

“We’ll have our pee wee tournament and we’ll do some other things like sell discount cards,” he said. “I love the sport and I went to Watertown High School.  We have more Section 3 champions than anyone.  Around here, that’s huge. We also have more state champions than anyone in our league. We have a very rich tradition.”

A rich tradition and a promising future, according to the coach, as there are over 100 kids in the pee wee program.

“Those wrestlers will come up to the varsity level down the road,” he said. “We want to make sure they have a program to wrestle for.  It’s difficult, but as long as the kids keep coming, I’ll keep coaching.”

Another February, Another Title: Nassau's James Dekrone Wins National Championship at 141 Pounds

Every wrestler hopes to be in peak physical condition as the postseason approaches.

But for Nassau Community College’s James Dekrone, not feeling well contributed to his National Championship performance last weekend in Iowa.

The former John Glenn High School standout spent the majority of the year at 149 pounds, going 18-4 at that weight according to the NWCA Scorebook, with three of those setbacks against Division I wrestlers.

But as February rolled around, an illness changed the course of his year.

Photo by BV

“To be honest, I was planning on going 149 the whole season,” Dekrone said. “I told my coach I was staying at 149 and then I got sick and lost weight.  I had no appetite and the next thing I knew, I wasn’t that far from where I needed to be for 141.  I thought maybe I should take a shot at it.  Once I committed, it wasn’t bad to stay down.”

He wrestled three bouts in early February at the lower weight and won all three – two by technical fall.  He then entered the NJCAA National Championships ranked eighth nationally and not knowing what to expect.

“I really didn’t know too much about a lot of the other wrestlers because I wasn’t at that weight most of the season,” he said.  “I had seen rankings here and there.  I went in thinking I just needed to go and wrestle hard for seven minutes and see what happened.”

The unseeded tournament can be unpredictable.  But Dekrone began with a 10-3 decision over Tyler Lashbrook and followed that up with a with a 2-1 victory against Jarett Morrill.

The semifinals brought Steven Ruppert, the number two grappler in the country. It wasn’t really a contest, however, as the Nassau wrestler picked up a 12-5 win to punch his ticket to the title bout.

After a scoreless first period versus top-ranked Zach Loveless of Northwest College, Dekrone took a 5-0 lead in the second stanza with a takedown and near fall.  A few minutes later, he was a national champion after a 7-6 triumph.

“Even though the final score was close, I felt like I was in control for most of the match,” he said. “It was 7-3 halfway through the third and he had a late reversal and stall point.  I was pretty comfortable that I was going to win.”

He was the only victor for Nassau, but he wasn’t the only placer.  In fact, three other wrestlers – John Pellegrino (125), Chanse Menendez (174) and Yaseen Mudassar (285) finished as silver medalists and Kyle Wade (149) and Ian MacIneirghe (197) also made the podium.

Those showings put the squad in fourth place in the standings.

“In the beginning of the season, we didn’t know if we had that strong of a team,” he said. “That last month, everyone came together and turned it on at the right time.  We had 10 guys at nationals.  We wrestled well at the best time and exceeded expectations.”

As for Dekrone, he felt that he simply met expectations with his championship.

“This weekend was pretty surreal,” Dekrone said.  “It was similar to winning the [138-pound state] title last year.  It felt like there was a great weight off my shoulders. I was just happy that I reached my goals and got to where I wanted to be at the beginning of the season.”

Photo by BV

He believed that he had plenty of help to get there.

“I think ‘fine-tuned’ is a good way to describe what’s happened here this year,” Dekrone said.  “They’ve tweaked the little things to take me from being a good kid to a great kid on the mat.  I’ve definitely matured as an athlete and wrestler.   Physically, I’m in better shape than ever before.  I’m more explosive than I’ve ever been.  That comes from the great coaching I’ve had, which has helped me take the extra steps I needed.  It’s also because I have great training partners like Kyle Wade and Anthony Abidin.”

Abidin captured a national title in 2012 and is redshirting this campaign before heading off to Nebraska in the fall.  It’s a path that Dekrone would like to emulate.

“Next year I’ll be here wrestling but I’ll be redshirting,” he said. “Then, we’ll see.  I absolutely want to transfer, hopefully somewhere in Division I.  I’ll start looking around again.”

But for now, he’ll remain on Long Island with another line added to his resume.

“Nassau has been a great fit,” he said. “I’m happy I’m here.  It’s great to be around a lot of kids I know, wrestling with guys I’ve known for a long time.”

And it’s great to be a national champion.

 

From Korea to Cornell: Syosset's Choi Earns Prestigious Scholarship to the Ivy League

When Dan Choi arrived in the United States, he didn’t know a word of English and he had never stepped on a wrestling mat.

That was just three years ago, but Choi has come a long way.

In a few months, the Syosset senior will head to Cornell University, where he will wrestle for one of the nation’s top teams and begin preparing for his future career, serving his new country.

“I’m very excited about Cornell,” he said. “There are all the things I want. I love math and science and there’s a very good physics major I will be in.  There is also a very good wrestling program and the ROTC.”

Choi said he was one of five recipients in the Northeast of the Navy ROTC Scholarship, which fully covers tuition.

“At Cornell, I’ll be trained as an officer and I’ll work for four years after graduation,” he said. “I would like to be trained for Navy Seals too.  I know it will be tough, but I’m excited about it.”

While Choi said he doesn’t have any connections to the military, he feels a desire to serve.

“I really want to give back to this country,” he said. “I have gotten a good education here that I couldn’t get back in Korea. Moving here changed my life.”

It sure did.

Other than the language barrier, which he said forced him to “look up almost every word” in his books when he first got to New York, he faced other challenges.  For one, he came all the way across the globe by himself.

“I live with a legal guardian, but not immediate family here,” he said.  “We don’t really know each other that well.  My mom is still working in Korea and we talk a few times a week.  But I haven’t seen her for two years.”

In order to make ends meet, Choi began working at a Subway restaurant, a job he still holds today.  But in addition to his time spent in food service and doing homework, he was seeking another extracurricular activity when he arrived.

“I started training in taekwondo when I was seven in Korea,” he said. “I am a black belt in taekwondo and judo.  During my sophomore year, I was looking for a sport and I heard wrestling was similar to judo.  So I asked if I could join.”

He did, but found that wrestling wasn’t that similar to judo after all.

“It was very difficult and very different,” he said. “My experience helped but I didn’t really know the rules for a while so it was hard.”

Despite that, Choi won more than 15 bouts and advanced to the Nassau County Tournament, where he lost his first match.  That summer, he went back to Korea and did some training there.  He also began to work with Vougar Oroudjov at Vougar’s Honors Wrestling.

“Wrestling in the offseason at Vougar’s really helped,” he said. “There are college wrestlers there and that helped me get much better.”

“Dan’s a good kid,” Oroudjov said. “He works at Subway to pay his bills and works very hard in wrestling and school.  He’s very strong physically and he has improved a lot in the past year.”

Courtesy of Dan Choi

The work paid off as Choi showed significant improvement as a junior, compiling a 42-8 record at 182 pounds with 21 falls.  He had more success in the postseason, earning bronze at the Section 8 Tournament.

“I wasn’t surprised that I was third in the county,” he said. “I actually expected more than that.  I was frustrated and disappointed.”

And he thought his season was over.

But shortly afterward, he found out that it wasn’t.  Although he was not originally granted a wildcard bid to the state tournament, an injury to another wrestler gave him a spot in the bracket.

Choi went 2-2 at the Times Union Center, losing to the fifth and sixth place finishers and coming within one victory of making the podium.  But despite the progress he had made in the sport, he wasn’t pleased.

“I was both nervous and excited to wrestle with the best in New York,” he said. “I felt lucky to be there. I wasn’t happy with how I wrestled. I didn’t wrestle the way I normally do. I was too nervous.”

While nerves played a role in his experience on the mat in the state capital, they didn’t come into play during the college selection process.

Choi applied early decision to Cornell and said he wasn’t really considering other schools.  In order to earn his scholarship, he had to interview with military officers.  He said he was much calmer than he was on the mat in Albany.

That calm has carried over to his senior campaign.  He has been an integral part of a banner year for Syosset, which has included the school’s first conference title in over 20 years. And he has enjoyed individual success as well.

Choi is 34-2 overall and all of his victories have been by bonus points. One of his losses came when he bumped up a weight to face one of Nassau’s top 220 pounders, Matt Mott of Lynbrook.  The other, a fall against Nick Weber of Kings Park in the finals at the Syosset Tournament, has stayed on the top of his mind.

“I took [Weber] down twice and was winning 4-2,” he said. “I was at the edge of the circle, close to out of bounds and kind of relaxed. He threw me and pinned me.  I would like to wrestle him again.”

Courtesy of Dan Choi

He was so disgusted that he left the second place medal he received behind when he exited the gym.

However, it was delivered back to him shortly afterwards.

“The father of one my teammates, Mr. Miller, knows my situation and has always helped me,” he said. “He picked up the award for me and told me I should keep it because it means something.  He told me to remember the feeling I had when I got it.”

Choi said he definitely remembers that feeling.  And it helps him as he pushes toward his goal of being a state champion this year.

Not too long ago, Dan Choi didn’t know the first thing about wrestling.  But to see him on the podium in a few weeks wouldn’t be that surprising.

What a difference three years can make.  The next chapter will begin at Cornell.

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Dan Choi wished to thank the Syosset parents, especially Mr. Miller and Mr. Gewolb, as well as his Subway Manager Stephanie.

Vougar Oroudjov Reflects on his World Cup Experience with Team USA

A little over a week ago, Vougar Oroudjov returned from Baku, Azerbaijan where he was on the staff of the United States team that finished third at the FILA World Cup.   The two-time World Champion and Olympic bronze medalist talked to New York Wrestling News about his experience with the USA squad.

What was your role with the team?

Zeke Jones called me about two weeks before the tournament and asked if I could come.  I was a Team Leader.  I was born in Azerbaijan and speak the language there so I translated when we needed it, dealt with hotels, referees and things like that.  I was also at practice and the matches.  I did what I could to help the guys. It was great to be a part of it with everyone on the team and the great coaches – Zeke Jones, John Smith, Mark Manning and Brandon Slay.  It was my first time with the US Team and I didn’t feel like an outsider at all.  We all wanted the same thing – to win.  The atmosphere was great.

What did you think about the team’s performance?

The team was very good.  The United States keeps making big improvements in freestyle.  You saw it at the World Championships and again at the World Cup.

We lost to Iran 4-3, but I wouldn’t say they were much better. Maybe a few tactical things made the difference. In the first match, at 55 kg with Nick Simmons, there were a couple of situations where there were calls that could go either way and they went Iran’s way.  Same thing with [Keith] Gavin’s match at 84 kg.   It was a good learning experience.  I think everyone understands that we have some work to do to be the best team in the world, but we’re getting closer.  There is time before the Olympics to focus on our mistakes and fix them.

Who impressed you individually for the United States?

Jordan Burroughs, Coleman Scott and Tervel Dlagnev were all undefeated and wrestled really well.

Burroughs showed why he is the World Champion.  He knew exactly what he needed to do against the competition.  Dlagnev has the experience on this level and it showed.

It was the first time I saw Coleman Scott wrestle and I was amazed. He was really tough and mentally ready. He wasn’t intimidated about wrestling for the national team, he just went out to win. He never stopped moving; was all the time attacking.  I really like his style – he always showed offensive wrestling.  He beat some very good wrestlers.  I thought 60 kg was one of the toughest weights overall at the tournament. If I were the coach, I’d want him on the Olympic team.  Of course, I’m not the coach.

Honestly, there weren’t any guys who didn’t compete well.  Take someone like Jake Varner.  He lost some matches, but he still wrestled pretty well.  He lost to some World finalists.  I still think he’s good enough to do very well in London. The  Olympics are different than the World Cup. I have several friends who never won anything until they put it together and won the Olympics.

What do you think of the freestyle wrestling you saw at the tournament?

The rules just keep changing.  I know I learned a lot because things are different than when I wrestled freestyle.  To me, it’s getting so much more tactical.  In folkstyle, it’s all about intensity; guys going all out the whole match.  In freestyle now, it isn’t like that.  A lot of it is getting one pushout or taking one shot or grabbing the right ball out of a bag.  I don’t like that.  Just go to overtime and see who scores to get the real winner. There also seems to be a lot more questionable calls.  But we all know the rules.  There are no excuses.  We need to train for those rules and those types of matches.

You had a New York wrestler on the team in Cornell’s Kyle Dake.  He didn’t compete in the dual competition, but how did he look in training?

Kyle was there to be the training partner for Jordan Burroughs and to possibly give Burroughs a rest if we could during the tournament.  That didn’t wind up happening.

But even though he wasn’t in the tournament, I saw Kyle wrestle a lot. Each practice, I was in his corner, watching him.  He’s really good and getting better and better in freestyle. The best thing is that he listens.  You say something to him and he appreciates it and makes the changes.  He was impressive. People would be surprised how good he looked and how he looks against Burroughs.

We also had matches before the tournament where he was wrestling the guys from places like Azerbaijan and Russia.  He did very well against them.  I definitely think Kyle will make the next Olympics.  He’s really progressing in freestyle.  He will be a big surprise for everybody in the next Olympic cycle.

What’s next for you?

I will be working with the kids in my club [Vougars Honors Wrestling in Syosset] on freestyle to prepare for Fargo.

Then, we’ll see.  The USA coaches invited me to come with the team to the Olympics.  It was really hard for me to leave my family for the two weeks for the World Cup, so it would be hard to go for a longer time to London.  I missed home.  I missed my wrestlers and my club.  My son Vitali won the NY Freestyle States while I was away.    That’s one of the reasons the decision to go to Baku was so hard – I knew I would have to miss that and the other New York States for Cadets and Juniors.  I’m probably 50/50 right now on going to London.  I am honored that I was asked and it would be an honor to be there and help and give back to America.

Either way, I wish everyone luck.  I’m hoping for some Olympic championships.  We definitely have several guys who have shown that they are good enough to do it.