The last year and a half has been quite a ride for wrestler James Bethel. During that time, he has traveled to numerous states, took third place in the New York State high school wrestling finals, become nationally ranked in Greco and Freestyle wrestling, and two weeks ago, took fourth place in the collegiate Division 3 wrestling final and was named a collegiate All-American, all before he turned 18.
Oh, he’s also been invited to train with the U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Colorado Springs, Co.
Bethel’s college coach William Cooper at SUNY Oneonta, where he’s majoring in early childhood education, had this to say: “We have watched him mature a great deal this season and as of right now, he is on pace to become the greatest athlete to ever go through our program. I have also had conversation with him about achieving Academic All-American and he has expressed this as being a serious personal goal moving forward. What an outstanding young gentlemen.”
“He’s also one of the nicest kids I’ve ever coached,” said his former high school wrestling coach, Dom Zarrella. “James is a very special athlete and person. He is loyal and unassuming and the type of kid you root for. His potential is limitless and he is bound to achieve great things. This accomplishment is remarkable for a person his age.”
Unassuming is the perfect word to sum up this soft-spoken young man.
Whether it was at Saugerties High School or Oneonta, “wrestling with a team has been the best part. I’ve become really good friend with all of them,” Bethel said in an interview last week.
On his breaks from college, he comes back to Saugerties and works out with the members of the high school team while still wrestling with his Ironman Club team in Poughkeepsie and soon to join the Dark Corners wrestling club in Kingston.
Looking back at his first year as a college wrestler, Bethel said the speed of the matches and their intensity surprised him at first.
“I started off slow as I got used to the pace,” he said.
One of his earlier matches was against a 25-year-old from Rhode Island “eight years older than I was.”
Bethel lost that match but later in the season, faced the Rhode Islander again and this time pinned him. As a matter of fact, all of the matches that Bethel lost in the early part of the season he avenged by beating them later in the season.
“I got a lot of satisfaction from that,” Bethel said.
Next year he wants to be bigger and faster. He wrestles at 289 but has found that college kids are a “big 289,” while he is usually about 280.
“I really need to get quicker and stronger so I can handle the big guys. They’re slower moving so being quicker should help.”
“And I want to slowly move up the national rankings and hopefully become number one in the nation,” Bethel said.
And then there’s the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. “That might be fun,” Bethel said with a smile.