In an exciting face-off, the three-time champion SAR Sting and the returning champion Kushner Cobras both emerged victorious as they tied for first place at the 24th annual Wittenberg Wrestling Invitational Tournament. Over 140 wrestlers from 12 yeshiva high schools across the country participated in the event, which took place over President’s Day weekend.
This annual tournament encompasses everything that yeshivas are trying to instill in their students, the ability to push beyond their limits and work together as a team, all while living a Jewish lifestyle and upholding Jewish values. The 2019 tournament proved that, at least for these wrestlers, that message had been heard loud and clear.
The tournament began on Friday morning, February 15, on four separate mats at The Frisch School in Paramus, continuing on Sunday, with many matches throughout the weekend in the 14 different weight classes, ranging from 106 lbs. to 285 lbs. While the individual wrestlers advanced in the brackets, winners also gained overall points for their teams. So, in addition to having 14 individual champions by Sunday afternoon, the school team with the highest overall score was also to be crowned victorious.
Coach Zach Kahan, of SAR, stressed that his job is not just about teaching technique but imparting life lessons. “Wrestling is the best sport for teaching lessons about Jewish ethics, discipline and work ethic.”
Coach Mike Ciavarro, of Kushner, was proud of his team’s effort. “These guys came out here and laid it all out there on the mat. That’s all a coach can ask for. It’s not as much about the winning or the losing, it’s about the effort they give and I am very pleased with how the team competed this year.” The Cobras had a strong performance as all 11 of their point scorers placed in the tournament individually. They set a record for the amount of finalists and champions with eight finalist and four champions.
But the big story of this year’s tournament was not about the wrestling; it was about the midot displayed by coaches and wrestlers alike.
One of the Kushner wrestlers performed a celebratory backflip after a win, which caused the team to lose a point due to “unsportsmanlike behavior.” When the points were tallied at the end, SAR had a one point advantage. The SAR coaches did not want to win that way.
“No one wants an asterisk next to their victory,” said Coach Kahan. “We work hard to win and when something like this happens it’s unfair. In most cases that’s just sports and we have to live it with, but not today. Today we had the unique opportunity to right a wrong and it felt great.”
The SAR coaching staff turned to their wrestlers and let them make the decision. After a short discussion, the SAR team agreed unanimously that the first place trophy should be shared. So together, the two championship teams celebrated their amazing and well-deserved first place wins.
“Ultimately, the students made the right choice, solidifying all the hard work and valuable lessons,” said Coach Kahan.
Other winners at the tournament were Frisch in second place, Ida Crown in third and TABC in fourth. The Most Outstanding Wrestler award went to Yehuda Farkas of Frisch, with the Dominator award (most pins in the least amount of time) going to Joseph Wolkoff of Kushner. Sponsored by the Zinkin family, the Aryeh “Captain Lou” Zinkin Yeshiva Wrestling award granted $1,800 to Max Schacter, a senior co-captain of TABC. That award grants $1,800 to one Wittenberg participant each year who has defied the odds to pursue their Torah identity while demonstrating a commitment to the advancement of the Jewish community.
Contributors to this article included Daniel Berger and Yonatan Najman-Licht of SAR, Coach Mike Ciavarro of Kushner and Coach Moshe Klyman of Frisch.