(Featured photo: Second year middle school wrestler, Yahiro Teraoka pinning his opponent with a headlock)
December 10, 2022
After a complete cancellation of the middle school wrestling season two seasons ago due to the COVID pandemic and having only one middle school wrestler on the team last season with no competition, the once mighty St. Mary’s middle school program, with over 40 wrestlers at one point, is under total reconstruction. “If the high school program is the heart of the program, middle school is the blood that flows through it,” explained Coach Yabui of the importance of the middle school program and the unfortunate circumstances the pandemic has created. But, finally, middle school season is back and there are 8 wrestlers on the team this year. They had their first competition on Saturday together with the high school competition at Zama.
Yahiro Teraoka, the only middle school wrestler from last year, was more than pumped for his debut match. In his match against a Zama wrestler, right off the whistle, Yahiro charged into his opponent; causing his opponent to flee out of bounce. Yahiro showed very aggressive wrestling and the best his opponent could do was to try to dodge Yahiro. After realizing that his tactics weren’t working as well, Yahiro quickly transitioned into putting a headlock on his opponent to take him straight to his back. Yahiro pinned his opponent on his shoulders to secure a victory by fall (pin). “Yahiro has been showing great leadership, guiding the other rookies as he is the only experienced wrestler on the team,” commented Coach Yabui, “and he really surprised me today with his aggression and fighting spirit; he started out the day for the middle school wrestlers in the best possible way.”
Harry Parker is in his first year wrestling and as he is quite a heavy wrestler for middle school, he has been training with the high school wrestlers occasionally. He has been working diligently in the wrestling room. In his first match against a Zama wrestler, he wasn’t aggressive enough and did not contest for every point. The opponent was physically stronger than Harry and he ended up getting pinned. However in his second match against another Zama wrestler, Harry showed what he has been learning in practice. He shot some double leg attacks. Although he wasn’t successful at first, he got into a scramble and found his way behind his opponent. After scoring the takedown, he quickly transitioned into a half nelson and held his opponent on his back. PIN! Harry won his second match by a pin to go 1-1 for the day.
Kensaku Kishida and Ryan Murase had to wrestle their teammates for their debut match. They both wrestled hard and put on a good show. Ryan was more active at first, shooting leg attacks and taking Kensaku down. However, Kensaku countered with his attacks as well. Ryan put on a cow catcher on Kensaku to turn him to his back; a move he just learned a few days ago. Overall Ryan did a better job of finishing his moves and being more active. Kensaku put up a good fight but lost the match 11-0 in the end.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen such a special middle school wrestler like him,” commented Coach Yabui about 6th grader Rafael Nagata. Rafael, only a month into the wrestling program, has already bought into the program. He walks around, he warms up, he dresses up, he acts and behaves like a wrestler. He is the lightest and smallest wrestler by far in the wrestling room but he perhaps has the biggest heart. He shows respect to the wrestling program’s tradition and legacy, he cares for his teammates and the high school team’s performance. He is always keen to learn, adapt, and improve. Best of all, he hates losing and he wants to be a champion. On Saturday, Rafael wrestled against a Zama wrestler that is far heavier and stronger than him.
“I don’t normally pair up wrestlers with such weight difference unless I know my wrestler can take the challenge,” explained Coach Yabui his reasoning, “and at St. Mary’s, we don’t just train middle school wrestlers to win middle school matches but we are preparing them to be Far East champions in high school; and sometimes that means they need to be pushed beyond their potential rather than being complacent beating weaker opponents.”
Coach Yabui is known to pair up his middle school wrestlers that are good and have potential with stronger opponents to give them an extra challenge. Some of the most accomplished wrestlers in the past were challenged in the same way in their middle school days including Riku Osawa (2015 Far East champion), Ryan Vasconcellos (3-tim Far East champion), Ryo Osawa (2 time Far East champion), and Chang Young Lee (4-time Far East champion). Despite facing a much larger opponent, Rafael did not whimper. Insead, Rafael went up against his opponent, used his footwork to pace his distance and to set up the right time to attack. He pushed into his opponent fearlessly and tried his double leg shots. Although his attempts were unsuccessful, he continued to attack and stay on offense. In the end Rafael got pinned due to the weight disadvantage, but his fight and spirit grabbed the attention of his opposing coaches and his teammates who all gave him words of praise after the match.
“When Rafael is physically bigger and stronger, he will be a champion sooner or later,” empathized Coach Matumoto who was also not physically gifted in his middle school days but became a champion later on.
“I can see champions when I look at one he [Rafael] has the heart of a champion,” commented Coach Yabui and expressed his excitement for this “little” 6th grader.
Overall, it was a historic day when the Kanto Plain middle school wrestling got some real competition after a long two year break. Obstacles still remain in the league, however. There are less and less wrestlers on every Kanto team. Before, tournaments just for middle school wrestling was in the schedule, but that has not happened for several years now as middle school wrestlers have no choice but to accompany the high school team’s schedule and organize exhibition matches there.
“We have to build back the middle school league and the high school league, but middle school is more desperate at this point,” explained Coach Yabui of the potentially devastating future of wrestling in the Kanto Plain and in Far East with the lack of participation number and tournaments.
Middle school wrestlers will compete next on January 14 at the CAJ Invitational.
Middle School Exhibition Match Results
Yahiro Teraoka pin Noah Idehara (ZAM)
Jayden Louiselle (ZAM) pin Harry Parker
Ryan Murase defeat Kensaku Kishida 11-0
Noah Idehara (ZAM) pin Rafael Nagata
Harry Parker pin Marcus Childs (ZAM)