Vince Lombardi said the dictionary is the only place success comes before work. Saugerties senior Biko Skalla is living proof. As a hard-working athlete and excellent student, he’s made the most of his time at Saugerties High School and appears destined to succeed in college and beyond.
By the time he graduates, Biko will have earned 11 varsity letters. Sports have always been a part of his life, starting at quite a young age. “When I was like four years old, my dad said I either had to do wrestling or some kind of martial arts, so I chose wrestling. I’ve been doing that ever since.”
He participated in his first wrestling tournament when he was eight years old. He still remembers it. “My first win was against a kid I beat like 12-2. It was nice to win that match, but then I lost 2-1. After that, I wrestled a kid for second place who had lost to the kid I lost to 2-1, and we went into overtime. I beat him in double overtime by escaping in the final round. So, that’s what really got me stuck to wrestling.”
Since then, Biko has worked tirelessly to perfect his skills, and it shows. In January, in an exciting but strenuous six-minute match, he got his 100th win, a feat most wrestlers do not achieve.
“It was a tough match, and I didn’t even hear the buzzer go off at the end. I was just happy, and humbled by all the people who came out and supported me.”
This year he tied for the most wins on the team with 30, and ended his wrestling career with 108.
He’s had a lot of support throughout his sports career.
“Ever since I was young, [my dad] always stressed physical fitness,” said Skalla. “He’s always been there to push me.” His coaches have also had a hand in motivating Biko to be better. “[My dad] has been my coach since I was about eight years old, all in different sports, because I was always too scared and shy to have someone else coach me.” However, he soon got over that fear with a slew of other coaches who provided support and encouragement.
But he isn’t the kind of person who needs motivation from someone else to make him work hard. This is what sets Biko apart from so many others who thrive on praise. He is a self-motivated individual who refuses to do anything less than the best he can. He knows that when you aren’t practicing and trying your best, someone else always is. This is apparent in his choice of role models: former NCAA wrestler Cael Sanderson and Derek Jeter. While these two choices are admirable, he said his biggest idol is his grandfather.
Larry Skalla has been coaching for around 50 years. Today he coaches for SHS wrestling at the modified level. “Anything he wants in his heart for me to do, I always feel driven to do,” said Biko.
“One thing he taught me is delayed gratification. That’s something he’s always stressed: when you’re struggling with wrestling and you have to keep your grades up so you can get into a good college, or when you’re working out it’s so you can be the tougher kid in the match. That’s something I’ll never forget.”
Coach Dominic Zarrella has had the opportunity to witness this firsthand. “I have known Biko since the seventh grade and have always admired his intelligence and sense of humor. He is very mature for his age and is a genuine person. On top of that, he is a well-rounded and tough athlete.”
Biko remains humble. He is aware that he is the person he is because of those around him and the experiences he’s had. He considers himself fortunate. “I just want to thank my family because they’re the ones who made me the person I am, both my mom’s side and my dad’s side,” he said. “I could never be thankful enough for how amazing they are. They’ve turned me from a little brat into a decently nice person.”
In August, Biko will attend Syracuse University’s S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, one of the top communications schools in the country. His father, Dennis Skalla, couldn’t be more proud. “Biko and I have had a lot of fun together these last 18 years. I have thoroughly enjoyed being his father, his coach and this year, his science teacher. I look forward to seeing what Biko does next year at Syracuse, and I am sure it is going to be a great experience for him.”
There, he will major in broadcast journalism. “Going to Syracuse is a dream come true,” he said. “That’ll be really fun, getting an internship, working my way up. And Newhouse, you just can’t beat Newhouse.”
And although he may not achieve his old goal of being shortstop for the New York Yankees, he has found a way to incorporate his passion for the Yanks into his future career goals. “I would love to be on any network, commentating for any team, any sport. My dream is to either be on Yes or ESPN. And I’m one step closer to that, which is really unbelievable.”
To those who know him, it isn’t at all unbelievable.