Those who entered The Eckert Wrestling Room this winter witnessed a cascade of energy, sweat and camaraderie being bundled by new head coach, Austin Frank. For the majority of students, this season was their first taste of competitive wrestling. New to a combative sport fashioned by physical and mental adventures, team members grappled with new challenges, and learned a lot about themselves along the way.
Peddie wrestling encourages participation and supports a no-cut policy. As long as an athlete demonstrates grit and a positive attitude to survive the challenges of training, they belong on the team. This year’s 34-person roster included four seniors, 14 juniors, four sophomores and 12 freshmen. Juniors Christos Katsifis and Rob Ladd, and postgrad TJ Rayam, qualified for the National Prep Wrestling Championships.
For the unseasoned novice or even to the veteran grappler, it is a daunting task to keep up with all the nuances and intricacies of the sport. Frank is realistic about all the bumps and bruises his team will encounter during the rebuilding process.
“We are young and raw but I really do believe that the guys are buying into the program,” said Frank. “They recognize that I’m giving them everything I’ve got and won’t quit on them and so they want to reciprocate.”
Freshman Suraj Mukkamala is excited to be a part of the team. “Wrestling was the first thing I tried at Peddie and I enjoyed it,” said Mukkamala. “It has given me the opportunity to participate in a sport, to build self-confidence.”
Joining the team in the 106-pound weight class, Mukkamala learned early on that winning is not all about trophies, but more about conquering personal challenges on and off the mat.
“No matter your body size — weight or height — if you have the work ethic you can get far in wrestling and learn to believe in yourself,” he said. “As Coach Frank says, ‘if someone just hands something to you, you don’t deserve it.’ This applies to almost everything in life and it has stuck with me.”
Frank constantly reminds his team that there is no supplement for hard work. “If you want to be successful you’ve got to earn it. I believe in this philosophy so strongly that this quote is on the wall in the wrestling room in large letters,” he said.
According to Frank, wrestling can be an intimidating sport, and tough to master. “Therefore, it is my charge to find the appropriate balance between work and play, and to know when to push the boys harder or to slow it down when their bodies need to recover. As a coach I do my best to individualize motivation, to make each guy on the team feel important and to get the team to understand that everyone plays an important role in our overall success.”
Frank believes that wrestling is an excellent lesson plan for life, and he is committed to preparing his wrestlers for those experiences. “Although I have a strong passion for the sport, it is more important to me that I help prepare these young men for the adversity that they may face as they make their journey through life,” he said.
“In the end I think it is the personal challenge and camaraderie that is unique to wrestling that keeps them coming back each day.”