LYNN — Wrestling has officially made a splash at Marshall Middle School.
The Mustangs started their program three years ago without much certainty, but the team has flourished in a short window of time. At tryouts this spring, 80 hopefuls came out hoping to join a team that had to cut down to 25 members once the season started. Of the 25 members of this year’s team, 80 percent are girls.
“We had 80 kids come out this year. We had to turn some of them away because there just wasn’t any room on the mat for them,” Frank Vieira, who coaches the team alongside his daughter, Samantha Nelson, said. “It’s a huge hit. My daughter teaches sixth grade social studies and I teach eighth grade. That’s huge when she brings younger kids to the program and we have them for three years.
“We owe a big thanks to School Committee member Jared Nicholson for help getting the program started,” Vieira added. “He was detrimental in getting us funding, gear, uniforms and a wrestling mat. Without his efforts, there would not be a team to coach.”
And the success of the team wasn’t just clear when the individual wrestlers improved along the course of the season. Aside from individual improvement, the Mustangs showcased their talents on May 23 when they defeated Brookline, 36-27, in their lone middle school meet of the season.
Makonnen Suggs shook off the nerves that came with being slated as Marshall’s first wrestler to take the mat during the meet and earned the team’s first victory. From there, Marshall never looked back.
“It was electric,” Vieira said. “Makonnen came up to me and said ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ I talked to him a little bit and then he came back to me and said ‘I can beat this guy.’ He went for it and that was all she wrote. After that the kids we just kept winning match after match after match. It was just awesome.”
Romeo Francis also earned a win, setting the school record for the quickest pin at 10 seconds. Mariah Felix, Dayris Cleto, Estefany Soto, and Jadalizize Guzman also won matches for the Mustangs by pinning their opponents. Other Mustangs who won by points for Marshall were Jania Cooper, Ambar Rodriguez, Luz Galan, Alex Rodriguez, and Kevin Martinez.
“I’m very proud of them,” Vieira said. “The program is growing. They work so hard and they learn so quickly. It’s very exciting.”
Vieira, a Salem native, has coached the Mustangs since the program started three years ago. Vieira wrestled at Salem High and made it a lifelong goal to coach his own program one day.
“I wrestled for four years in high school,” Vieira said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to start a program in Lynn. I’m absolutely loving it. It’s a dream come true for me.”
At Marshall, learning how to wrestle starts with the basics. Once the wrestlers get a clear understanding of basic techniques, the learning progresses from there.
“We focus from the beginning,” Vieira said. “We teach them how to set up. From there we teach them a breakdown. From there, we’ll get a little more complicated with a pinning combination. Then we lead into things like ‘cradles.’ After that we get into fancy things like ‘guillotines’ or ‘surfboards.’ We have a wrestler who pulled a surfboard on an opponent last year in Brookline.”
Aside from an annual meet against Brookline, Marshall schedules another clash against the Lynn high school team. That gives the Mustangs an opportunity to learn from wrestlers who were once in their shoes.
“Our kids get to wrestler theirs,” Vieira said. “It gives my old kids the chance to come back and meet the kids they might wrestle with in high school. We tell the middle school kids to remember that because one day they’ll come back and do the same. It works out well. The kids love giving back.”
Vieira’s hoping to see the sport grow at the middle school level.
“If we can get more meets that would be awesome,” Vieira said. “Now that Breed has a team, we’d like to score a meet with them in the future. It’d be great to start our own division. That’s what we’re hoping for. Once word gets out and people see how much fun the kids are having, we’re hoping that other schools pick it up.”