For the first time in the history of the tournament, a Philadelphia resident, Angel Garcia, has won a national championship at the Cadet and Junior Greco Roman and Freestyle National Championship in wrestling in Fargo, North Dakota.
“It’s basically the biggest tournament in the world for high school athletes to compete [in the nation], and it’s the gateway to the international stage,” said Garcia’s head coach, Ed Schneider.
More specifically, Garcia won the 170-pound weight class in Greco Roman, a particular style of wrestling. Garcia went undefeated in the tournament, wrestling and beating seven other wrestlers from across the country.
“It feels good,” said Garcia. “I feel like my work has paid off.”
Garcia, 18, is one of a group of wrestlers aged 16 to 19 who practice at the Rizzo PAL Center at Belgrade and Clearfield in Port Richmond. He’s from North Philadelphia and is an incoming senior at Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School, at 1840 Torresdale Ave., in the former North Catholic building.
“I was extremely happy for him,” said one of his coaches, David James. “I never take it for granted, but I’ve known for a long time that he had the tools to win it and it was a matter of actually doing it.”
According to James, Garcia was the only junior to win a championship in Greco Roman.
“It’s not just a Philadelphia accomplishment,” James said. “It’s actually a big win for Pennsylvania wrestling.”
Schneider called his win “the biggest thing that a Philadelphia wrestler has ever done.”
Garcia called the experience “special.”
“It’s a place where any wrestler would want to be at,” he said. “It’s a good rising feeling inside of you where you feel proud. You feel like your work is showing. It’s a good experience. It’s the best feeling a wrestler could ever feel.”
Garcia said he first got into wrestling in sixth grade, when he “slammed” a kid in a fight. He was suspended for his actions, but at some point the school’s wrestling coach approached him and offered him a better outlet for his emotions.
“I seen it for the first time and I was like, ‘I want to get into that,’ ” said Garcia. “So ever since that day, I’ve been wrestling.”
It was Garcia’s third time at the championship in three years, and he is still young enough to be eligible to compete in next year’s tournament as well. Garcia talked to the Star about how he’s grown as a wrestler in those three years.
“Since last year, I improved a lot,” he said. “I opened up to many more moves. I’d change a lot of my set-ups and a couple of my techniques, so I improved a lot since last year. I grinded all summer and I put in all the work, so I improved a lot.”
Garcia said he wants to go “as far as God will give me the ability and opportunity to go” with wrestling. He still has one more year of high school left, but during that time he says he’ll be debating between going to college for wrestling, pursuing the sport as a member of the ROTC or even trying out for the Olympics.
While Garcia had the most success in the tournament, three other Philly wrestlers also had good showings. In their respective weight classes, wrestlers Grigol Khochiashvili took fifth, Steven Foster took eighth and Tatyana Ortiz, a female, took eighth as well. Interestingly, Ortiz went 2-2 against boys.