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Excitement On The Wrestling Mats: Youth Program Gearing Up For Season



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This is the first in a series of articles highlighting the Newtown Youth Wrestling Association

It is almost time for another exciting season on the wrestling mats.

Established in 2005, the Newtown Youth Wrestling Association has grown to be one of the 100 largest clubs by registration in the U.S. and is recognized as the largest program in the state as well as New England by USA Wrestling, national governing body and the organization that supports the U.S. Olympic team.

Steady growth within the program has led to 80 or more wrestlers since 2017, excluding a drop to 49 during 2021 due to the impact of the coronavirus. There will be an estimated 100 wrestlers for the 2021-22 winter season, NYWA officials anticipate.

"As you can imagine, I am very excited. I am looking forward to getting our athletes together, not only to train and compete but, more importantly, to engage with each other and to build on their friendships and social/emotional skills," NYWA Head Coach Curtis Urbina said.

"Sports has always created a safe place for our kid athletes and I have no doubt that our coaching staff is ready to welcome back our wrestlers, and prepare them for another championship run. It’s going to feel great to be back on the mat," Urbina added.

The wrestlers will compete in dual meets and tournaments throughout the state and New England; the more experienced wrestlers participate in regional and national competitions. There are three sessions: Fall runs for a month from the middle of September until mid October; Winter is the big season, running from mid October through late February; and Spring is from early March through mid April. NYWA is a 501 (c) non-profit with an operating budget of $50 thousand. NYWA has ten paid professional coaches, nine volunteer parent coaches, and seven volunteer board members.

The program is broken into three teams, one for grades K-2, one for grades 3-8, and a travel team for grades 3-8. The NYWA strives to promote physical, mental, and emotional development of its participants through hard work, commitment, competition, and camaraderie. NYWA serves as a feeder program to Newtown High School's wrestling team.

NYWA hosted its third Nighthawk Classic, sponsored by Fortis Lux, in December of 2019. It drew 450 wrestlers from 31 teams representing six states. More than 75 parents and Newtown High School wrestlers volunteered to set up, and run concessions and table scores, among other responsibilities.

In 2019-20, the wrestlers had 18 dual meets and 36 tournaments. The accomplishments are impressive with Nighthawk Classic first place accolades earned by Newtown in the Bantam and Middle School divisions, and second place earned by the Mighty Mites and Novice divisions. Newtown also won the Natick Middle School Duals championship, was the Marshwoods Bantam Division runner-up, claimed the Western Connecticut League championships (Elementary and Middle School teams), and New England Award "Building Community Through Wrestling." Individual accomplishments include 125 tournament champions, and lots of success at the state and New England levels.

NYWA will strive to continue its success with a new look at the top. Nick Veneziano takes over the role of NYWA president.

"Absolutely thrilled and honored," Veneziano said of taking over for Tom Maurath, who is taking on a role to support the Newtown High School wrestling program's booster club.

"The culture and community aspect of NYWA has had my family hooked from day one. The level of impact this has on our youth is huge. So being able to say I am part of this is an achievement I am personally grateful for," Veneziano said.

The NYWA president said the young grapplers showed how much passion they have for their sport during the significantly-altered, coronavirus-impacted slate in which they did not have an opportunity to compete last winter.

"NYWA really helps these kids learn to persevere. Which is why I want to see these kids really go 'live' again. Watching them battle through a winter of conditioning only last year was a huge reminder of how much heart and dedication wrestlers have. It starts from the top with our coaching staff. Always ready to take advantage of the next teachable moment — which we all know last year was full of," Veneziano said.

"This past year has been difficult for so many, and now that we have turned the corner, I am extremely excited for the upcoming season. We're hungry, our coaches are hungry, and our wrestlers, in particular, are hungry to get back to competing on the mat," said David Blair, secretary of NYWA. "Watching our wrestlers persevere through such adversity, on and off the mat, this past year has been admirable and speaks volumes to the remarkable resilience and love of the sport our wrestlers have. And we can't thank our coaches enough, who kept our wrestlers motivated, in top shape, and helped to build camaraderie, even though we couldn't wrestle live or compete."

Registration is open for the fall season, which officially begins September 13. The NYWA will hold a fundraising car wash at Berkshire Motors, 25 Berkshire Road, Sandy Hook, from 10 am to 2 pm on Saturday, August 21.

The program will hold the first of its free clinics, open to prospective wrestlers interested in learning about NYWA, on Saturday, August 28; the clinic will take place at Edmond Town Hall, 45 Main Street, from noon to 1 pm. There will also be clinics September 18 from 3 to 4 pm, and October 9 from noon to 1 pm (both also at town hall).

"The main goal is for them to get a feel of what it’s like to be at a typical practice. But what I like is when you see some of the new kids really take notice of the confidence and respect the existing wrestlers have. This I think is a big reason why the clinics work wonders. I truly believe they are feeding off of how the other wrestlers carry themselves," Veneziano said.

"The clinics provide a great opportunity for prospective wrestlers that are new to the sport, especially the younger ones, an introduction to wrestling, a first hand look at what a practice is like, and a chance to meet our wonderful staff of coaches. For the parents, I think they get to experience the sense of community that the NYWA brings," Blair added.

NYWA grapplers participate in local meets and tournaments throughout the Connecticut and New England, in the fall season, from September 13 to October 14. Practice schedule and cost information is as follows:

*Grades K-2 one day a week, Monday or Thursday, 6-7 pm.

*Grades K-2, two days a week, Monday and Thursday, 6-7 pm.

*Grades 3-12, one day a week, Monday or Thursday, 6-7:30 pm.

*Grades 3-12, two days a week, Monday and Thursday, 6-7:30 pm.

Cost for K-2 is $90 for one day and $150 for two-day sessions. Cost for 3-12 is $100 for one day and $175 for two-day sessions. Teams practice at Edmond Town Hall.

Winter season registration opens September 18, and the winter campaign gets going on October 18. Another event NYWA is looking forward to is Newtown Day at Fairfield Hills on October 3 (11 am to 8 pm). NYWA will have a both therefor the first time.

To learn more about NYWA and to register, visit newtownyouthwrestling.com.

Sports Editor Andy Hutchison can be reached at andyh@thebee.com.

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