After Varsity Losses, Youth Coaches See Reversal in Wrestling’s Fortunes

Upcoming talent in the primary and junior high grades
Three of East Hampton’s place-winners (a fourth was Santiago Maya, not pictured) at the recent county youth wrestling championships were, from left, Bronco Campsey, Jacob Kennedy, and R.J. Hernandez. Kennedy is to wrestle in the state youth tournament this weekend. Jack Graves

Jim Stewart, the former longtime East Hampton High School varsity wrestling coach, who now oversees the middle school’s team, and Beau Campsey, one of Stewart’s former wrestlers who took over from Joe Russo the town-sponsored youth program this past fall, are of the same mind when it comes to the future of wrestling here, even in the face of this past winter’s winless season at the varsity level.

To wit, they think, given the talent they’ve been seeing in the primary and junior high grades, it augurs well.

“Wrestling is a challenge . . . it’s fun,” said Stewart during Sunday’s fund-raiser for his late daughter Katy’s foundation at the Buckskill Winter Club. “It will come back — I hope the 20 kids we have at the middle school will stick with it.”

For his part, Campsey, who, likewise, oversaw about 20 kindergarten-through-sixth-grade kids at twice-a-week practices throughout the winter, thinks “wrestling’s coming back . . . absolutely. We’ve had great participation . . . they’ve been practicing hard.”

Testimony that they have lies in the fact that of the six competitors Campsey recently took to the county youth wrestling championships at Bay Shore High School four wound up placing.

Jacob Kennedy took first place in the intermediate division’s 70-pound class; Santiago Maya placed fourth in the schoolboy division’s 84-pound class; Austin Campsey placed fifth in the bantam division’s 50-pound class, and Robert Hernandez placed fifth, as well, in the intermediate division’s 87-pound class.

Kennedy, moreover, went on to win his division in the state’s southern super regional tourney this past weekend — a win that advanced him to the state finals at Johnson City this weekend. He won the half-state championship match by pinning his opponent midway through the second period.

Asked Monday afternoon at the high school — where three of the four had come to have their photo taken — if he used the cradle as his main pin hold, Kennedy, a fourth grader at the John M. Marshall Elementary School, said he preferred the tilt.

“The cradle is more basic — that’s one of the pin holds we’ve been concentrating on,” his coach said. “The tilt is more advanced.”

Youth wrestling here will continue through the month, said Campsey, who has been taking his charges once a week to practice with their Westhampton Beach, Hampton Bays, and Riverhead peers at the East Quogue Elementary School. One more tournament looms, at Walt Whitman High School in Huntington on St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

As for the East Hampton Middle School team, Stewart said during a practice session last week that it had two meets, with Mattituck and East Moriches, under its belt, and was to wrestle at Westhampton Beach Monday. 

“The kids get to wrestle two or three times in these matches,” said Stewart, whose assistant, Brian Mott, also assisted the varsity’s first-year coach, Anthony Piscitello, this past season.

The middle school team, Stewart said, comprises students from the East Hampton, Montauk, and Springs seventh and eighth grades. There is no one on the team, he said, from Pierson or Bridgehampton. Maya, Kevin Bunce Jr., and Caleb Mott, the assistant coach’s son, are among the team’s more experienced wrestlers.

“They should be good in a few years,” the elder Mott said, in between running his charges through various pin holds. “What we need to do is keep these kids interested once they get to the high school.”