While Saugerties High School senior James Bethel was finishing third in the state tournament, the best finish for any Sawyer wrestler yet, Saugerties seventh and eighth grade wrestlers were making a strong statement themselves. They were going undefeated as a team, the first to do so.
“We had 32 kids, in weight classes ranging from 67 pounds to 221, who really came through this season,” said head coach Larry Skalla.
If anyone should know quality wrestling, it’s Skalla, who has been teaching the sport since 1962.
Skalla, whose son Dennis is the junior varsity wrestling coach and assistant head coach at the varsity level, has been coaching the younger kids for the last five years. He’s assisted by former Saugerties High School standout wrestler Reid Kappler.
Many of the wrestlers have been recruited from the modified football program, whose coach is Dom Zarrella, the head coach of the varsity wrestling team.
“One of the nice things about being the football coach is that I can direct my players into wrestling, which allows us to build the program,” said Zarrella.
“Our object at this level is to let the kids explore the sport,” Skalla said. “Many of these kids have never experienced it before.”
Wrestling is unique. It’s both a team sport and an individual sport. Many of the young wrestlers have only participated in team sports such as soccer, football and baseball.
“It’s a very demanding sport,” Skalla said. “When a young kid steps out onto that mat, he is all by himself.”
“We had a really good group of kids this year,” Skalla added. “They were willing to work hard. Coach Kappler and myself tried to get the kids to understand that when you are on the mat you have to put in the work if you want to win.”
And with Kappler, who is young enough to be able to relate to the kids, “they all really get it.”
Next year many of these youngsters might find themselves starting on the varsity level, which will lose 11 wrestlers to graduation this year, creating numerous openings next year for those willing to put in the work.
“I thinks some of our eighth graders will be able to break through to the starting lineup next year,” Skalla said. “And I looking forward to seeing what they can do, and training the next group as well.”