Sophomore Andrew Burke (left) and sophomore Colin Yang (right). Burke and Yang are wrestlers in the lowest weight class.
Culturally, when we imagine wrestlers, we visualize heavy, muscle-laden fighters. John Cena at 251 pounds and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson at 260 pounds are examples of heavyweight wrestlers who gained fame in popular culture. When looking at wrestling as a whole, however, there is a surprising diversity, with a total of 14 weight classes in high school. With the rising popularity of Mixed Martial Arts, all different kinds of wrestlers are starting to gain popularity.
“In movies and stuff, it’s always about the big person,” assistant coach Max Rosefigura said. “Especially in martial arts, the lighter weights are making a lot of headway recently.”
The lowest high school weight class is 106, meant for wrestlers who weigh 106 pounds or less. Sophomores Andrew Burke and Colin Yang are two junior varsity wrestlers in 106.
Burke, currently weighing 107 pounds, doesn’t think there’s a pressure to be in a higher weight class, but a pressure to be bigger in general.
“People look down on you. It’s just exactly how it sounds. Everyone is taller than me, they look down,” Burke said, laughing. “I wouldn’t say they’re being mean or anything but there are definitely times when they pick on me because I’m small.”
Yang weighs 106 pounds, just on the edge of the weight class as well. Yang accepts where he is. Wrestlers try to be the best in their weight class so that they can be on varsity. If in their weight class, there are better wrestlers than them, a wrestler would want to move up in order to dominate other weight classes.
“I’m good with 106,” Yang said. “Unless I gain weight, then I’ll go up.”
Heavy Versus Light
Since wrestling goes by weight classes, there isn’t the issue of unfair combat between the heavyweights and the lightweights. Heavyweights utilize brute strength in their matches, the lightweights, while not necessarily weaker, move quicker. Wrestling is a sport in which people of shorter stature and less weight can prosper. Tall, upper weights have more opportunities in high-earning sports such as football, basketball and baseball.
“So in some ways, wrestling is a great sport because these people who are outliers, they can find a sport which they can excel at a high level,” Rosefigura said. “It’s just hard for a person who’s not six feet tall to make it to the NBA. That’s one of the things I like about wrestling; I’m 155 pounds, I was never going to be a football star or basketball star.”
There haven’t been any issues with the heavyweights pushing around the lightweights, Rosefigura noticed, especially with wrestling heavyweights. They recognize that they are so much bigger than other people, so they take on the personality of “gentle giants.”
“Basically every wrestling heavyweight I’ve known,” Rosefigura said, “No matter how they acted on the mat, how ferocious they were, they are always the nicest, kindest people off the mat.”
The lightweights are also just as much a part of the team as any other wrestler. In dual meets, no matter what weight the wrestlers are, the points they earn count the same towards the team. A win is a win.
“Our team is super tight. I’ve rarely ever seen a team, this includes the teams I was on, being this tight,” Rosefigura said. “Like how much all the guys are there for each other. It’s like a family really, and they tease each other and we don’t see anyone better than anyone else. In fact, the little guys might dish out more of [the teasing].”
Within the team, the lightweights and the heavyweights are respected equally, but outside, Burke feels like the heavyweights are more respected because people do not want to be “beaten up.”
“It’s like a general feeling between everyone,” Burke said. “If there’s a big guy and a small guy, you’d mess with the small guy before the big guy. It’s not really unfair, you just have to deal with it. You can’t let it happen, you have to stand up for yourself.”
Even during practice, the coaches might poke fun at the lightweights. Burke finds that though he is singled out for his size, it’s not mean-spirited, and can be positive examples. For example, when learning new moves, head coach Ian Bork might point out that if the move has to do with quickness, it is easier for the smaller wrestlers. Yang, who has been trained by Bork for around four years now, is used to the teasing. The coaches jokes around to make practice more fun and to lighten the mood on serious or hard days.
“It may surprise you in the beginning and you may not like it,” Yang said. “but when you stay on the team longer, you realize it’s part of [Bork’s] personality.”
There is no specific fighting style for lightweights. Most lightweight matches go by faster because the wrestlers can move quickly, but the similarities end there. The coaches teach all wrestlers, no matter what weight, the same basic moves. Wrestling is more individual to the wrestlers themselves, so the coaches help different wrestlers focus on different things they need to improve on.
While Yang and Burke are both lightweights, Rosefigura, who has been coaching both through middle school, described them as almost opposites of each other. Yang is more of a “technician” in practice, and he can teach others a move after watching it just once. While he is intense during matches, the coaches push him to feel that fire during practice as well.
On the other hand, Rosefigura finds Burke more “hot-headed.” The coaches help Burke work on his direction because he gets emotionally fired up during competitions and is set off-balance.
The lightweight wrestlers don’t consciously try to gain weight. Most weight gain comes from general growth, but lightweight wrestlers want to try to stay in their weight class. There are advantages in staying in 106; most in the weight class are freshman who just got their first taste of high school wrestling, a big jump from middle school wrestling, and are a lot lighter than the 106 pound limit.
“I actually like [being in a smaller weight class],” Burke said. “Being the biggest I could be, and still be in the smallest weight class, definitely gives me an advantage over the other guys.”
The next weight class would be 113, meaning the wrestler’s weight has to be between 106 and 113 pounds. So for Burke’s first tournament on Dec. 5, he would eat a lighter dinner the day before. Once the weigh-ins happen the next day after a morning fast, he would start to eat the food he brought.
Yang doesn’t try to alter his diet dramatically. During wrestling season, he eats no ice cream or pie, though he occasionally splurges on potato chips. There isn’t the danger of extreme cutting that can happen with heavier weight classes, but in weight gain for lightweights, it’s only beneficial to gain muscle mass, not unnecessary, clunky weight. The weight limit can increase over the season up to 109 pounds to compensate for muscle gain.
Burke used to eat around 1000 calories a day, but he now consumes up to 2500 calories because he started making his own food. He doesn’t keep a close track of his diet, but stays away from candy and foods with too much fat. Burke started the wrestling season last year at 88 pounds and began a constant growth around March. He was motivated to gain weight after he realized his opponents were a lot bigger, and he doesn’t want to give them that advantage.
Later in the season, Yang will have to start eating smaller and more frequent meals to keep his energy level up and stay in his weight class.
“It’s nice to be under so I don’t have to cut weight and starve myself,” Yang said.
This year, Burke is just planning to stay in 106. Next year, he hopes to move to 120 or 130. No matter the size, all wrestlers can find their place on the team.
“That’s one way I think wrestling serves the community, by having these people who are great athletes,” Rosefigura said, “but just due to size, might not get a chance at the glory of a football field or basketball court.”