Youth Wrestling Referee Sees The Mat From Two Perspectives
Luca Manfredi moved up from youth wrestling to Newtown High School this year, but his development in the sport is not only on the competition side. In addition to wrestling in varsity matches, competing in the 106-pound weight division, this grappler is a referee in the Newtown Youth Wrestling Association (NYWA).
This new phase of his wrestling life began at the daylong Nighthawk Classic at Newtown High in December, where Luca made the calls for youth grapplers, in some instances only one year younger than him — some of whom, as a matter of fact, were his teammates only one year ago. Talk about transition, change, and moving up.
“It was really weird,” admitted Luca, adding that he asked his former teammates to keep a straight face when he started managing matches for the first time. “I wanted to keep it totally professional and act as if I didn’t know them.”
He certainly took on a lot in his first tournament; he worked roughly 75 matches in a ten-hour day of wrestling that featured competitors from six states; matches can last as little as a few seconds in the case of those decided by an early pin fall decision or several minutes. Initially, and naturally of course, there were some nerves for the new referee but once he settled in, it was an enjoyable experience.
“It was stressful. I didn’t want to mess up their match and be the reason they lost,” Luca said. “It was very stressful in the beginning, but it was fun in the end.”
Ron Chivinski, head coach with the Newtown High team, said he is impressed with the poise Luca shows as a freshman, especially when dealing with parents of wrestlers on the mats who may not agree with a call and voice their opinions.
“It helps his knowledge with the sport and it helps his growth as a young person and how to handle intense situations,” said Coach Chivinski, whose son is a baseball umpire and, similarly, has to work with those extra “officials” in the stands.
Luca, who wanted to try refereeing the sport to make a little bit of money, said a ref has to hold his ground and not back down when it comes to challenges from coaches or parents. Newtown High’s weekend tournament schedule has prevented Luca from working recent youth matches, but he is looking forward to returning to call reversals, takedowns, and pin falls as this season unfolds.
“It’s a great learning experience,” NYWA President Tom Maurath said. “It’s important that (referees) know the rules and how to conduct themselves and how to interact with coaches.”
“I think it’s great he gives back to the community and develops his knowledge of the sport,” added Mike Long, an assistant coach with NHS who also coaches in the youth feeder program.
Luca is not the first Newtown High wrestler to call matches in the town’s youth feeder program. Andy Hubina, who graduated from Newtown High in 2016, was a referee for three years, working his way up to being a head ref in the league championships. Hubina pointed out that it is invaluable what a wrestler gains from working as a referee.
“The more experience you can get with wrestling and the more you watch it, the more it helps you,” Andy said.
Luca already has quite a wrestling resume, having won a pair of state championships in the town’s youth program where he began in the Pre-K program designed for learning the basics of the sport.
He is still learning about wrestling, and becoming a referee has taught him a lot. He took a course to become certified in the USA Wrestling Organization.
“Studying the book to become a ref helped me understand the sport better for upcoming matches,” Luca said. “I feel like I knew a lot less than I actually thought. There’s a lot more to the sport than you’d think.”
Working the mats as a ref pays dividends when it comes to competitions, Mr Long believes.
“It allows you to see a ref’s perspective of things you might not see in a match before,” he said.