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Hartford Youth Wrestling Program Raises Self Esteem


June 14, 2012

Julia Paigo has always been an avid fan of wrestling. Growing up, the twenty-year old encouraged her brother to try the sport after contributing as a manager for Farmington High School.

Now, Paigo is spreading her love of wrestling to students as the assistant director of Beat the Streets, a non-profit after-school wrestling program in Hartford.

Paigo is no stranger to working with kids. She just completed her third year at the University of Saint Joseph, majoring in Human Development and Family Studies and focusing her energy on Child Studies. Last March, Paigo volunteered on a service mission trip to the Philippines—through the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association, based out of Jacksonville, Fla. For most of the mission trip, Paigo spent time with children, engaging students from kindergarten to senior year of high school in prayer and reflection. She is looking forward to her certification to teach kindergarten through sixth grade as she finishes college.

On Monday, 35 second, third and fourth graders of Achievement First Hartford Academy Elementary School involved in the program showed off their wrestling knowledge to their parents and friends at their final celebration and award ceremony held at the school. Aside from awards going to the top three wrestlers in the program, other awards went to students with perfect and near-perfect attendance. All students involved received certificates of completion, too. The program is funded by private donations and fundraising that the students took part in during the course of the session.

Students met on Monday and Friday afternoons. Mondays were broken up into three parts, an hour and a half to get some homework done, get changed for practice and have a Subway dinner. Then, students would practice wrestling for an hour. On Fridays, students would come back later in the evening and practice for an hour and a half.

When it comes to after-school programs, wrestling is oftentimes not the first sport that comes to mind—students usually take part in sports like basketball or football—especially in the Connecticut area. Volunteer, Marc Madnick, a long-time fan and nine-year coach of wrestling, supports the program, saying that wrestling is "a mechanism for discipline, passion and ambition." This three-month session was the first that Madnick took part in. The program is also offered for three months in the fall.

Parents are seeing results of the program. According to Paigo, parents would often come up to her after practice and tell her the change they saw in their sons or daughters, noting increased self-esteem—something that Paigo had not expected to hear. Among the 35 students, two girls are involved in the program.

Paigo also said she believes that wrestling is a good fit as an after-school program as well. Wrestling is a more inclusive sport compared to others, allowing children of all sizes to participate. There is a weight class for everyone. Paigo pointed out that for sports like basketball and football, if you aren't very tall or big and strong, you are at the disadvantage, excluding kids from joining and playing. When it comes to wrestling, "very lean kids can be state champs," said Paigo.

The program has six or seven volunteers, depending on the day. Most agreed that many of the children expected to be body-slamming each other to the ground—similar to the wrestling they see on television. Keeping them focused and teaching the kids what real wrestling consists of seemed to be the biggest problems for volunteers.

Apart from jittery kids excited to wrestle, some of the other problems the program faces is of course, funding. This year-old program has faced issues when it came to finding mats for the kids to wrestle on, as well as money for wrestling shoes. With the help of private donations, fundraising and volunteers from the community, the program will see another few sessions. Due to the issues with finding mats, the program started a little later than expected last fall, but they are on target to begin the three-month program on time this fall.

Anyone interested in signing up, volunteering or making a donation, log on to http://www.beatthestreets.org.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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