After just three years as a club sport, the Dorchester High wrestling team will be a varsity squad this winter.
The club was started by Tech Boston Academy eighth grade history and government teacher Jose Valenzuela, who last year founded Boston Youth Wrestling. The nonprofit raised about $30,000 in one year to promote youth development through wrestling at both the middle school and high school levels in Boston Public Schools.
For the first time, Madison Park and West Roxbury High Schools will have club-wrestling programs this year. Boston Youth Wrestling also supports the Josiah Quincy Upper School’s varsity wrestling program as well as six BPS middle school programs.
The team will not be affiliated with a league this year but Valenzuela hopes this season plants the seed for a true Boston City League for wrestling.
Valenzuela said a four-team city league could hypothetically start as soon as Madison Park and West Roxbury received varsity status.
“That’s been talked about but nothing has been put onto paper yet,” he said. “We’d be excited about the possibility of doing that. With Madison Park and West Roxbury in the wings I think it would be feasible. If you look at the schools with football programs that would be a great way to get kids excited to participate in both sports. Get those schools involved.
“But that’s a conversation for the future.”
Dorchester will have 12 regular season meets this season. The school also hosted its first home football and volleyball games this year. The volleyball team as well both girls’ and boys’ soccer also qualified for the state tournament this fall.
“It is a cool year as far as athletics and we’ve seen that change over a few years,” Valenzuela said. “We’re kind of seeing how athletics in general is changing the culture in the school.”
The team has 26 wrestlers and will host three home meets this year. Valenzuela believes that the Jan. 14 match at 5 p.m. against BC High will be the first home match in school history at the varsity level.
“It is really exciting,” he said. “It’s cool. The team we are hosting is another Dorchester team. Maybe it will become an annual tradition.”
This year Valenzuela has stepped down as Dorchester’s head coach so he can concentrate on running Boston Youth Wrestling, which he says has grown so fast and so quickly he has had to turn down middle schools that want to participate this year.
He will serve as an assistant coach for Dorchester along with Brian Coakley, while Frank Mahoney will take over head-coaching duties. Just like tennis splits the city in half between Latin Academy and O’Bryant’s co-op teams, Dorchester will draw wrestlers from the schools in the southern part of the city while Josiah Quincy draw from the north.
“Any wrestler will tell you that it draws form a different crowd of kids,” Valenzuela said of the sport. “It’s usually kids who don’t have the opportunity to play other sports or are rough around the edges so other sports are not appropriate. Wrestling rewards you for being physical.”
A Jamaica Plain native, Valenzuela, 28, wrestled for Boston Latin before wrestling for Williams College.
“Wrestling made me stronger to get through that experience,” he said of attending Williams.
He said Boston Latin was the only wrestling program in BPS when he graduated in 2003. Josiah Quincy started its program about a year later and Valenzuela started his club with middle school students in 2009. He expanded to high school as his kids grew with the program.
He said before this year the athletics department was reluctant to start varsity wrestling programs because in the past schools started programs only to fold after a half season or one season.
Valenzuela’s solution was to start Boston Youth Wrestling as an umbrella organization to support school-based wrestling programs so the school district wouldn’t be on the hook to fund the teams entirely.
The nonprofit helps programs procure mats, headgear, shoes, uniforms and other equipment.
In September Boston Youth Wrestling received its federal tax exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service and it raised $12,500 at its first Back-to-School Fundraising Dinner at Filippo’s Ristorante in the North End.
Valenzuela also took two of his wrestlers to speak in front of the Boston School Committee in September to make the case for a varsity program.
He said New Mission junior Elivs Alvarado and O’Bryant junior Ayomide Olumuyiwa spoke so eloquently that it wasn’t long before Interim Superintendent John McDonough was calling Valenzuela on his cell phone to see how he could help get the varsity program off the ground.
“They are the ones who spoke more clearly and passionately than I ever could have,” Valenzuela said of the students. “They are the ones who got people to pay attention when nobody was. If the kids didn’t respond the way they have we’re not going anywhere.
“More than anything that gets me excited. I want the best for these kids.”
This weekend is also a big one for Boston Youth Wrestling. On Friday night the program is taking about 40 students to see the No. 1 ranked college wrestling program in the country, Penn State, take on Boston University.
And from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday the program is hosting a clinic with the Boston Scholar Athletes program at Madison Park High that will draw about 75 wrestlers from across the city.
“I don’t think there have been too many events in city wrestling history this big,” Valenzuela said. “That has had this many city wrestlers in the city at the same time.”
Valenzuela was just as excited to see Penn State, the two-time defending national champions, wrestle.
“To see it in person is cool,” he said. “Our kids see wrestling at the high school level or middle school level so sometimes its difficult to grasp the full excitement of the sport. When you see it live you get the sense in person. It’s one of the most exciting sports to watch.
"It’s just made that way.”
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