CROSS RIVER, N.Y. — As John Degl looked around the wrestling room at John Jay Middle School on Wednesday, he was pleased that the kids were taking the fun to the mat at the the ninth annual New York State Wrestling Camp.
The camp included boys in elementary school, junior high school and high school as well as many of Section 1's current and former standouts working as counselors.
"To get the younger kids, especially those who go to a regular camp where they play and have fun, tells us that they want to learn about wrestling," said Degl, who co-founded the camp with John Jay-Cross River varsity wrestling coach Bill Swertfager. "We practice and drill a lot, and both are serious. But the kids also have fun because we play games with them."
The camp has former Mahopac and Cornell great Joe Mazzurco and Troy Nickerson, his Cornell teammate, as the guest clinicians. Mazzurco is a three-time Section 1 champion and 1999 New York State titlist. Mazzurco, who finished with 191 varsity wins, was also a state runner-up and third-place finisher. He went on to be a two-time all-American at Cornell. Nickerson, an Iowa State assistant wrestling coach, is a five-time New York State titlist and all-American at Cornell.
Degl and Swertfager are assisted by former and current Section 1 standouts, including Ardsley alumnus and current Springfield College all-American Derrick Longo, recent Fox Lane graduates Sam Speno and Danny Ventura, Yorktown senior Joe Mastro, Ardsley senior Drew Longo and Binghamton sophomore and Beacon alum Vin Grella.
"To have two New York guys, especially Joe (Mazzurco), come back gives it a special feeling," Degl said. "It also shows the wrestlers that here are two New York guys who were in the same spot as them at one time. They get a lot more out of the camp."
Mazzurco spent many nights training with Degl when he first opened the Iowa Style Wrestling School.
"Joe is always a presence at the camp," said Degl, who has known Mazzurco since he was a toddler. "Joe brings is different level. He is also like a life coach. Joe stepped away from the sport after a great career. He went to school to get a great education and also wrestle.
"He is also so approachable. Joe will come to Iowa Style and work with and talk to the wrestlers."
Degl also appreciates the help from wrestlers from Iowa Style who return every year to work with the kids.
"They want to see these young wrestlers get to the level that they are at," said Degl, a 1991 New York State champion. "Their willingness to give back shows that they care about the sport and are not selfish. Most of them volunteer. Without their help, we wouldn't be where we are with this."