Brothers representing PAL Wrestling take first place at 2017 PAWF State Championship
By Melissa Komar
Angel Garcia calls out commands as sweat forms on his T-shirt and hip hop music booms through nearby speakers.
The 15-year-old leads a group of about two dozen youth through drills from front tucks to the fireman’s carry.
It’s a usual warm-up routine for a weekday practice at PAL Wrestling.
And, it’s a typical night for Team Garcia.
Angel’s parents, Yancy and Angel Garcia, watch him and his two brothers, Leo, 20, and Reynaldo, 14, with pride just beyond the mats.
Wrestling has become a family affair for the Garcias, so much so they refer to themselves as “Team Garcia.”
Angel and Reynaldo followed in their older sister, Kathy’s, and older brother, Leo’s, footsteps three years ago.
While Kathy decided not to pursue the sport, the brothers stuck with it, getting their start at Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School, 1840 Torresdale Ave., and then joining PAL.
They have been wrestling with the Beat the Streets program at PAL ever since.
And in their family’s house.
“My dad set up a room, a little area, where me and my brothers can wrestle,” Angel said. “We practice skills and techniques. And we have mats and a speaker to listen to our music.”
PAL Wrestling was in the midst of a transition when the Garcias joined its ranks.
“We started a movement about five years ago to make our spring wrestling focus on the Olympic styles — freestyle and Greco-Roman,” said Ed Schneider, PAL Wrestling head coach. “Last year, we put major focus on developing those skills, and this year, we were able to incorporate the Pennsylvania Regional Training Center athletes to help coach technique here at PAL.”
Despite having only a few years of freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling experience under their belts, the Garcias have been mounting success.
“Angel learned the sport right away, and a turning point for him was when I did not enter him in the PJW Youth Wrestling Championship his first year because he wasn’t ready,” Schneider said. “He was a little upset, but from that point forward, he made it a goal to qualify and he has each year.”
Angel and Reynaldo both qualified for the Pennsylvania Freestyle State Championship, one of the largest state-wide tournaments, last year but did not place.
This year, Team Garcia dominated.
During the weekend of May 19 to 21, Angel became the first Philadelphia resident to take first place in both the freestyle and Greco-Roman divisions, according to Schneider.
Angel wrestled at the 152-pound weight division.
Reynaldo took first place in Greco-Roman and second place in freestyle in the 120-pound weight class.
“It was awesome,” Reynaldo said. “I was so excited to win I was jumping up and down on the mat. I was so nervous my first match, but I wrestled calm and I won.”
“My goal was to place at states and I trained hard all year,” Angel said. “I did exactly as I trained. I practiced hard and I wrestled hard.”
Angel was down in a couple of his matches, but ultimately prevailed, crediting not only his training, but his coaches and team for “never giving up on me.”
One of his coaches at PAL, David James, witnessed those matches.
“Angel was behind on points in one of his matches and he came from behind and won,” James said. “That showed a lot of heart and poise.”
While the brothers have some shiny hardware to show for their skills on the mat, wrestling is more than just a sport.
“I have a really good connection with my coaches at PAL. They teach me more than just wrestling,” Angel said. “They tell us education is always first and wrestling is second. And they teach us respect and friendship. They motivate us to accomplish everything we can.”
Wrestling at PAL is also an outlet.
“PAL gives me a place when I’m really angry where I can let it all out in practice, but in a positive way,” Angel said. “Some days if I come to practice upset or angry, I can free myself from it all. Instead of using violence in the streets, I come here and do it in a positive way. And by the end of the night, I leave practice and I feel good and I’m happy.”
The brothers were training at full force on Thursday night for national events.
Reynaldo represents Team Pennsylvania and will compete in the ASICS Kids Freestyle and Greco-Roman National Championships at Atlanta.
Angel will compete at the largest national tournament in the U.S., the Cadet and Junior National Championships, known as “The Fargo Nationals” in July in Fargo, N.D.
After the national tournaments, the sky’s the limit.
Even though Reynaldo is only in eighth grade and Angel is a freshman in high school, both have their sights set on college.
“I hope to win a NCAA championship one day,” Reynaldo said.
Angel has similar goals.
“I want to make it to the world team,” he said. “But first, I want to go to college to become a lawyer and help people solve their problems. And I definitely want to wrestle in college.”
Angel Garcia Sr. is grateful for how wrestling has impacted his sons.
“I want to give thanks to Beat the Streets and PAL,” he said. “Because of them, the kids are better people, better students and have better attitudes. Wrestling has brought the family closer.”
Family is paramount to the Garcias. When one Garcia wrestles, all the others are there to cheer him on.
“If I’m in a wrestling match, I feel like my family is in it with me,” Reynaldo said. “They’re right there on the sidelines cheering for me and telling me what to do. It’s great.”
With help from PAL Wrestling, Team Garcia is aiming to be a household name for years to come.
“It means that I can be someone and leave a legacy in this world and know I can be successful in life,” Angel said. “It means a lot to me and my family as well. It’s Team Garcia.”