By Robert Cole
Young wrestlers throughout Queens traveled to Harry S. Truman High School in the Bronx to compete with some of the top athletes in the city and state at the 2018 Jay Alvarez Memorial Tournament.
The tournament — now in its sixth year — is named after Jay Alvarez, an aspiring wrestler from the Bronx who was killed during his freshman year at Nassau Community College in Long Island when he was hit by a drunk driver.
Alvarez was a former city-champion wrestler, who represented his high school — Hostos High School — and was also an original member of Beat the Streets, a wrestling program that works with inner-city wrestlers throughout the country.
Teams from four Queens high schools — Thomas Edison, Townsend Harris, Grover Cleveland, and Long Island City — brought their primary squads to the Bronx to develop their skills, while obtaining much needed experience in the sport.
Although many of the wrestlers from Queens were relatively new to wrestling, they competed well and followed instructions from their coaches, who work hard to not only teach wrestling techniques to their athletes, but to also teach life-lessons designed to carry the wrestlers from beyond their days of competing on the mat.
Thomas Edison’s first-year coach Luis Castillo talked about the importance of taking part in these weekend tournaments.
“Wrestlers learn a lot more in a tournament then they do in practice, you learn what not to do and what to do because they are visually watching so many matches,” he said.
Doug Rich, a co-coach at Long Island City who works with a team that is starting just its second season, believes that “wrestling is a special sport because you have to have resiliency.”
“Although you are going to go through your peaks and valleys, you learn to move forward so 20 years from now, no one can take away your wins and accomplishments,” he added.
A tournament like this allowed for a wrestler, if he or she survived to the end of the round, to receive the right instructions from his coach that could help him turn the match around. Such was the case in the boys 285-pound match between Angel Garcia of Grover Cleveland and Sam Azadi of Taft. Garcia was outwrestled by Azadi throughout much of the first period. His coach, Hany Morsi continued to call out instruction throughout the period, but Garcia could not immediately implement the strategy. But a break in the action allowed Garcia to focus on his coach’s instruction, which resulted in a pin by Garcia for the victory.
Morsi, who has coached for 10 years, was thrilled to see Garcia earn the victory
“New wrestlers are the best. Their first wins are the most impressive. It makes me feel happy for them,” he said. “To see a student who is very down on themselves turn things around makes me feel proud.”
The tournament moving to a larger facility allowed for a larger number of wrestlers, making room for girls to be invited to compete in the tournament for the first time.
Queens had three female wrestlers place in the top three in their division. Grover Cleveland’s Johana Apupalo earned a second place finish in her weight class, while Long Island City’s Brittant Reyes and Grover Cleveland’s Paige Blas each finished third in their respective weight classes.
As for the boys, Queens had a first-place winner in the Boys 160-pound class in George Tavares (Townsend Harris), who defeated another Queens wrestler, second-place finisher Kevin Hernandez (Thomas Edison). Six other Queens boys schools finished in the either fifth or sixth in their respective weight classes.