Monday, October 29, 2007

Another reason you gotta love the wrestling community

I generally consider myself to be among the more militant advocates for the growth of wrestling. Then Al Bevilacqua sent me an email, slapped me in the head and said, “Wake up!” Al was the successful, long-time wrestling coach at Massapequa High School in Long Island, New York. He was also the 2005 USA Wrestling Man of the Year, primarily because his work as Pesident of the “Beat the Streets Inc.program.

Here’s the cold water Al threw in my face, “Over 60% of the country does not have access to any form of high school or college wrestling and most of them are located in the top 50 cities in the country.” Now he had my attention – 60%?!?!?!

The genesis of Beat the Streets

In 1973 Bud Lindholm, from Pennsylvania, developed the National Urban Program to expand and grow wrestling in large urban centers. Building upon the idea, Al (as state chairman of the United States Wrestling Federation), Dr. Vince Zuaro and Dr Irwin Tobin launched wrestling as an interscholastic sport at 26 schools in New York City.

Unfortunately, these high schools were not as competitive as one would hope. From long experience Al and others knew that a key to building successful teams is developing a “feeder” program. “In 2001, under the leadership of Setrak Agonian, the MWA convinced the “NYC2012” committee (a group working to bring the 2012 Olympics to New York City) to help us (the MWA) in exchange for us managing the world championships.” Bill Crum, executive director of the MWA, began building clubs in NYC.

A major shift was made in 2004. Unlike Europe and the rest of the world, where sports are developed through clubs, in America it’s done through the schools. According to Al, “In 2004 we re-tooled the program by developing designing (sic) “feeder” middle school programs to build the base and drive the numbers up and expand the base of wrestling through the Public and Private Schools.” At the time of this initiative New York City had 23 high schools (out of 179) with wrestling teams and NO MIDDLE SCHOOL TEAMS and no wrestling in the physical education curriculum. In 2007 45 high schools will have teams, 65 middle schools, and they will have six elementary school clubs.

How it works

Al says, “Mats are the key…” “Each unit or team we open requires $15,000 for a mat, equipment and a coaching stipend.” Al calculates that over the life of every mat they purchase for a school they introduce 10,000 kids to the sport of wrestling through physical education classes, intramurals and interscholastic competition.

Beat the Streets will soon run ads in W.I.N. Magazine to attract educator/coaches to the coaching positions being created and will also launch an email recruiting campaign to colleges across the nation.

More than wrestling

Kids who participate in after-school activities do better academically. Countless academic studies prove this to be true. Of all athletic endeavors, wrestling has the potential for greater universal appeal. No specific physical trait like height, bulk or speed is required. Competition always pits opponents of similar sizes and ages against each other. It is, perhaps, the most “democratic” of all sports. The wrestler that works the hardest and learns the fastest and the most usually triumphs. It’s one of life’s great lessons.

What’s in the future?

Beat the Streets was helped by providing a $3 million Partnership Grant with the New York Department of Education. They now have a new goal of having a physical education wrestling unit in every elementary and middle school in the 5 boroughs of New York City.

Neither Al nor Beat the Streets Wrestling Inc. nor the MWA has any plans for taking Beat the Streets national. However, they have made their business model and plan available to interested parties in a number of cities. In May two New York State high school coaches who retired to Norfolk, VA launched a Beat the Streets program there. A similar program has been launched in San Francisco following the BTS model.

However, as Al relentlessly points out, there are still hundreds of thousands of kids who have no opportunities to wrestle. He cited Detroit as an example of a high need city, “I know that last year the NCAA Championships were held in Detroit hosted by the University of Michigan that resides 30 miles from Detroit. There is not 1 high school wrestling program in a city with over 2 million people. Michigan produces some of the finest wrestlers in the country and has left behind millions of kids in their large cites.”

BTS is also a leader in encouraging girls wrestling. “They represent 51% of America and women’s wrestling already is the fastest growing sport for girls now. We would like to get to the point in New York City where we have all girl teams as well as boys. The mat is there, the coach is already in place and we will place major emphasis this fiscal year to do just that. We have several women’s wrestlers helping us with the Beat the Streets already.”

You can help.

The original middle school program was started by a $4,500 gift from a single donor. Since then Al, Board Chairman Michael Novogratz and others have recruited an impressive list of supporters. They need more.

To learn how you can help expand Beat the Streets in New York or to begin a movement in your own community you can contact

Al Bevilacqua
Beat the Streets Wrestling, Inc.
194 S Bayview Ave
Amityville, NY 11701

As Al says, “…action is required, not words.”

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