Representing El Salvador: Newtown Wrestler Competes In Pan-American Championships
Antonio Arguello, 14, has gone a long way on the wrestling mats. Not just in terms of his improved technique and skill but in the literal sense — this fall traveling from Newtown to Panama to compete.
The Newtown High School freshman, whose father, Raul, is from El Salvador, represented Team El Salvador at the Pan-American Championships in Panama City, Panama, from November 21 to 26. Wrestlers competed from 24 countries across South and North America in both freestyle and Greco. Antonio competed in the U15 division at the 68 kilogram weight class and earned third place in a tough freestyle bracket with only one loss and three wins against Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Peru.
Raul came to the states in 1991 and still has family in El Salvador so there was great family pride when Antonio hit the mats. “It was a really good feeling — it was exciting,” Raul said of his son representing his native country in this competition.
“It was hard because it was over Thanksgiving,” said Antonio’s mom, Jennifer, noting that their other two children — daughters Isabella and Gabbi — spent the holiday without the rest of the family due to travel and their schedules here in the states.
Antonio was invited to join Team El Salvador due to his success in the Newtown Youth Wrestling Association. A state and New England champion, he also placed second in the National Tournament last year and that was more than enough to catch the attention of Team El Salvador coaches.
This wrestling experience was quite a bit different than what Antonio is used to in the US. The mats were a bit different, softer than what are used here. Coaches were able to challenge calls and officials used replay. Accustomed to folkstyle wrestling, Antonio had only a handful of months to learn some new techniques to compete in the games. He worked with club coaches to sharpen his skills and came through with a medal.
Antonio noted that his Team El Salvador coaches did not speak English, which made communication a bit tricky. There was no language barrier when he was announced as the third-place finisher.
“Once I won third they were jumping and giving me hugs,” Antonio said.
This was the country’s first U15 medal. “That’s why it was such a big deal,” Raul explained.
During the competition, Antonio’s grandma, Aracely Arguello, was regularly texting her son Raul for updates. “She was so excited,” Raul said.
“It was a ton of fun. The stadium was really cool,” Antonio said of the host site of the matches, Roberto Durán Arena, named after the former professional Panamanian Mexican boxer.
This was Antonio’s first time grappling out of the country. Wrestling has strict weight limitations and Arguello had to workout, work off, and sweat off four pounds to compete.
“I got up there, I had a lot of adrenaline, and once the whistle blew and 15 seconds into the match my nerves went away,” he said.
A 10-0 win over his first opponent, from Mexico, gave Antonio a confidence boost and he went on to have a successful long day of competition. Big wrestling tournaments here typically last five or six hours, but this one consumed 12 hours of each of the two days of competition.
The Arguello family got to explore a bit during the trip. They stayed in Panama’s “new city” and explored the “old city” to absorb Spanish colonial times. Political protests prevented the family from getting to see the Panama Canal.
Antonio has visions of competing at the Division I collegiate level. He also is looking to wrestle in the 2026 Youth Olympics in Africa. To qualify, he must win first place in the Pan-American Championships. Antonio will have a few more chances to do that. The next one is scheduled to be held this coming June in El Salvador of all places.
“I’m really excited. I’ll have my whole family,” he said. “I’m excited to have a big group.”
Antonio has been to El Salvador at least ten times. “We try to see family one or two times a year,” Raul said.
Also a baseball player, Antonio is a catcher. He likes to be active, including bicycling, and is getting ready for his first season with the Newtown High team.
It is an interesting story how Antonio first got involved with wrestling. Curtis Urbina, head coach of the Newtown Youth Wrestling program, has a daughter, Lenie, who was friends with Isabella and visiting the Arguello’s back when Antonio was only 4 years old.
Urbina saw Antonio clinging to his dad’s leg, saw potential for a strong wrestler, and suggested he give it a try. Antonio could not compete until age 5 but got to practice with the youth squad.
“That’s how the whole thing started,” Raul said.
“Such a fantastic story. I said ‘that kid’s got to wrestle’ and now we’re at the Pan-Am games,” Urbina said. “I’m very proud. It’s great for the whole town, for the program.”
Urbina added that the fact Antonio is a high school freshman makes this achievement all the more exciting and sets a good example.
“If you set your mind to it you can achieve it,” Urbina said.
Newtown High Coach Chris Bray, who has coached in the youth program throughout the years, has guided Antonio on the mats on and off since Antonio was in fourth grade.
“It’s fantastic,” Bray said. “He’s not intimidated by things. He’s kind of fearless so he took on a big thing.
Sports Editor Andy Hutchison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.