It may have been frigid outside, but inside O’Brien Hall, Washington Township High’s wrestling facility, it is “always 80 degrees and sunny.” So said an animated WTHS head coach Ron Ippolite in welcoming members of the school’s Project Unify Club during a clinic on the sport on January 9th. The camaraderie and sportsmanship of the event undoubtedly contributed to the warmth in the room.
Sponsored under the umbrella of the Special Olympics of New Jersey, Project Unify is a club whose goal is to activate young people to have true cultures of inclusiveness between special and regular education students. The event promoted socialization, skill development and teamwork, and for most, an introduction to the sport of wrestling.
After providing some background on the sport, Ippolite introduced his squad, including two-time District champion Evan Fisler, and provided a show and tell on the specialized footwear and headgear that is required in the sport. He then had his athletes demonstrate some of the positions and holds. He included the Project Unify athletes in warmup exercises and had them perfect their wrestling stances.
“Our wrestling team is a great group of hard-working young men,” Ippolite said. “We don’t use balls and bats and equipment like other sports. This sport requires a lot of physical energy and strength, and it may look like the guys are going to get hurt when they fall on the mat, but these mats are specially cushioned so our wrestlers won’t be injured. Believe it or not, even girls are allowed to wrestle in high school.”
Coach Ippolite also emphasized the importance of sportsmanship and invited the Project Unify kids to sit on his bench as a part of his team at an upcoming match.
“In wrestling, we have a great respect for the sport and for the opponent,” he said. “Being a good sport, whether you win or lose, is so important. Our wrestlers shake hands before and after their matches and try to be good representatives of our team, our school and our community. We thank you for visiting us and would love for you to sit on our bench and be a part of our team.”