All-Marine wrestlers teach student grapplers about technique, opportunities
By Sgt. David Salazar
| | December 13, 2003
LANTANA, Fla. --
The arena was filled with young fighters, each grappling his way through the seemingly endless gauntlet of battles they needed to endure to be among the victors on their improvised war zone.
Though the warriors possessed honor, discipline and strength -- they were not Marines - they were high school wrestlers.
And the gymnasium at Santaluces High School in Lantana, Fla., was the makeshift battlefield where student grapplers from all over South Florida came to compete in the school's annual Christmas Classic Invitational Wrestling Tournament Dec. 12 and 13.
The tournament was the perfect setting for Marines from RSS West Palm Beach to seek qualified applicants looking to take on another challenge: Marine Corps Recruit Training.
To help further their success, the Recruiting Station Fort Lauderdale gunslingers brought with them a small contingent of the Corps' own brand of wrestling-mat warriors - four Marines from the All-Marine Wrestling Team.
"I thought it'd be a great idea to bring the team down to give a live demo and clinic since we have wrestlers from 25 different schools here today," explained Staff Sgt. Mauricio Garcia, the staff-noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Recruiting Substation West Palm Beach. "Because of that number of kids out here, it's giving both the Marine Corps and its sports program lots of great exposure."
The team detachment, which consisted of coach Maj. Jay Antonelli, Staff Sgt. Marcel Cooper and Sergeants Jess Hargrave and Deon Hicks, put on a live demonstration of their abilities and respective distinct styles of wrestling during tournament half time.
West Palm Beach recruiters, armed with incentive items, employed the use of a dog tag station and the Marine Corps Pull-up Challenge. The tournament culminated with an awards presentation featuring Staff Sgt. Jason Batson, the school's recruiter.
Together, the wrestler/recruiter team amassed a respectable amount of leads that were age qualified -- and due to the nature of the sport and the moral fiber typical of wrestlers - were physically and mentally qualified as well.
"I think wrestlers naturally have many characteristics that would also make them great Marines," Antonelli said. "They have to be physically fit, they have to have discipline and they have to have honor and courage. The same caliber of person makes up both groups."
Due to those similarities between leathernecks and grapplers, it's also fitting that the Marine Corps Sports Program complements the Corps' recruiting efforts, Antonelli said.
"Because the kids are interested in wrestling, they find us more approachable and sooner or later questions about wrestling turn into questions about the Marine Corps," Antonelli said. "And it's at that point that we realize what an impact the sports program has on recruiting."
Hicks, a four-year member of the wrestling team, supported Antonelli's theory.
"Our purpose here is to inform these students that there is more to the Marine Corps than just the typical military stuff," explained Hicks, a native of Greensboro, N.C. "I'm also helping to offer the same opportunity offered to me when I was younger."
According to Hicks, the Marine Corps Sports Program had tremendous impact on his decision to join the Corps long before he was even eligible.
"This has been my life since the eighth grade - the minute I found out the Corps had a wrestling team, I did everything to prepare myself for joining. If I could influence someone else the way I was influenced back then, this trip was worth it," Hicks said.
Of more than 200 gross leads that the recruiters walked away with thanks to the team's efforts, 105 were age qualified - and are mere steps away from not only having what it takes to be victorious on the mat, but having the training needed to be victorious on the battlefield as well.