Off-season wrestling isn’t for the faint-hearted. It requires a level of dedication that not every high school wrestler can take on.
But Southampton varsity wrestling head coach Lester Ware has assembled a group of athletes from the East End that have been willing to go full throttle into the sport, and it’s paying off. Ware likes to call them the “Eastie Boyz”—a play on the name of the popular 1990s rap group, The Beastie Boys—but since many of the teenagers don’t know who The Beastie Boys are, many of them have taken to the name “South Fork Elite.”
The contingent is made up of wrestlers from both East Hampton and Southampton high schools. Rafal Rokosz, Peter Strassfield, Mitchell Pena, Chris Osufsen, Andres Felipe Perez and Brad Bockhaus are some of the top names from Southampton, while Lucas Escobar, Axel Alanis and Finn Hallissey are some of the East Hampton wrestlers that make up the team.
Ware took his group of about 15 wrestlers to the USA Wrestling Northeast Regional Freestyle and Greco-Roman Tournament on May 3 and 4 in East Stroudsberg, Pennsylvania, and to the New York State Freestyle and Greco-Roman Tournament on May 10 and 11 at Broome County Community College in Binghamton, New York. A number of wrestlers came home with medals and qualified for Nationals, which will be held at the Fargo Dome in Fargo, North Dakota, in July.
Those who haven’t qualified for Nationals yet will have the opportunity to do so at the Last Chance Qualifier at Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Queens on June 8. Bockhaus, Rokosz and Perez have qualified for nationals in both freestyle and Greco-Roman, while Strassfield has qualified in Greco-Roman. Pena and Osufsen have not qualified yet, but Ware expects them to do so at the Last Chance tournament next month.
Alanis qualified for both styles while Hallissey qualified for Greco-Roman. Escobar will be heading to the Last Chance meet with the hope of qualifying.
Ware explained that off-season wrestling—which he likes to call international-style wrestling, since it encompasses both the freestyle and Greco-Roman styles—is more complex and nuanced than high school wrestling, which uses the folkstyle format.
Greco-Roman wrestling differs from the other styles mainly in that it forbids holds below the waist, resulting in more emphasis on throws because a wrestler cannot use trips to take an opponent to the ground, or avoid throws by hooking or grabbing the opponent’s leg, whereas in freestyle, there is more of an emphasis on wrestling on your feet and wrestlers are rewarded for being more aggressive.
“They don’t have to pull weight like they do during the high school season,” he said. “They’re wrestling closer to their actual weight, and there are differences in the scoring system. You have to be more athletic and also think about a more broad array of things to do on the mat.
“It’s far more exciting than high school wrestling,” Ware added.
Southampton High School is considered by USA Wrestling, the governing body of the sport, as the Eastern Long Island Training Center, and therefore any wrestler that is officially registered with USA Wrestling can come down and practice with the team. Ware said he is used to seeing about 20 wrestlers in the room on Tuesday and Thursday evenings but expects that number to jump following the team’s success this year.
“We took a van to states this year, but at the rate we’re going, we’ll be taking a full bus to states next year,” he said. “When the number doubles in the room, the intensity of what’s going on in the room changes in a very visible and palatable way. The kids get more serious and more excited. There’s already a camaraderie amongst the group of kids the likes of which I haven’t seen in a while.”
In early April, Ware was named the head coach of the New York Greco-Roman Junior Division (9th and 12th grades) Team at Nationals, taking over for his former coach, Joe DeMeo. He said it was a “pleasant surprise” that he got the job and an “honor I don’t take lightly.”
Ware is well aware of what coaching at Nationals entails. There are about 30 to 40 mats that fill out the arena and a big Jumbotron that highlights a particular match. He said, comparatively, it makes the New York State High School Tournament, which is held every winter at the Times Union Center in Albany, look like a walk in the park.
“Both in scope and ability,” he said. “It’s a big deal.
“A lot of high school wrestlers get shocked and overwhelmed at the state tournament, but when they’re exposed to Nationals, it becomes just another day, really,” Ware continued. “I want the kids to get as much exposure to those big events as possible, so their anxiety levels in the state tournament is way down.”
Ware wanted thank Steve O’Brien and Marvin Dozier from the SYA for helping out with transportation, and Christina Strassfield for setting up logistics of each trip the team has taken. But Ware is asking for more help from the public. Each wrestler is expected to raise $1,200 to reach nationals, and some will spend even more money going to other venues. If anyone is interested in donating to the team, they can contact Ware at (631) 338-0895. Ware said the team has already received some donations but could use more help.
The Westhampton Beach wrestling team had two wrestlers place at the New York State Freestyle and Greco-Roman Tournament on May 10 and 11 at Broome County Community College in Binghamton, New York. Dan McClure placed fifth in the Cadet Freestyle division and third in the Greco-Roman division, while Dane Mendoza placed second in the Cadet Freestyle division.