Sweat | Training Champions, One Bruise at a Time

Recently, Mike Torriero found himself in a familiar situation.

One of his wrestlers, Jorje Jiminez of the Bronx, confessed that he was considering offers from prominent private schools, with strong wrestling programs, in New Jersey that offered him scholarships, better competition and more exposure to college scouts.

Mr. Torriero, the head coach and chief motivator with Beat the Streets, a nonprofit organization that works with wrestling students and programs in city schools, was concerned. “Jorje is the best high school wrestler we have right now in New York City,” he said. “He could be the first New York State champ that the city has had in decades.”

Mr. Torriero told Jorje he could be part of something historic by remaining in New York City. Then he mentioned LeBron James, who broke hearts in Cleveland and snubbed New York when he signed with the Miami Heat. That did it: Jorje decided to stay in the Bronx.

During a recent practice, the coach saluted Jorje to murmurs of appreciation from about 60 wrestlers gathered at the Beat the Streets center at St. Anthony’s Memorial Gym on Thompson Street in downtown Manhattan. Jorje, 16, a junior at Lehman High School in the Bronx, said later that he was relying on wrestling to help him get into college, but that he decided he could “get it done in New York City.”

The rougher neighborhoods of the five boroughs have long been known as hotbeds of talent in sports like basketball, baseball and boxing. But because there are few strong programs in scholastic wrestling, that sport has remained in the shadows, especially when compared with programs in schools in the suburbs and upstate.

“For more than 20 years, New York has not had a state champ, and we’ve finished at the bottom of the barrel every year, but we’re seeing things turn around,” Mr. Torriero, 28, said. “They don’t have the opportunity that suburban kids have. We’re trying to give them that opportunity.”

Beat the Streets, founded in 2004, works with the more than 100 middle and high school teams in the city to strengthen their programs. The organization outfits underprivileged wrestlers with singlets, headgear, wrestling shoes and other equipment, and holds regular evening practices for wrestlers who do not have school teams. Other students come simply because they want more practice time after their school team workouts. About 75 wrestlers regularly attend the practices, and Beat the Streets holds clinics at city schools. The program offers other services, like tutoring and financial seminars.

The wrestlers sat rapt as Mr. Torriero, also an unofficial father figure, preached the virtues of practicing hard, concentrating on their schoolwork and doing right by their families. There was, he assured them, a great reward in being a wrestler in New York City.

“My own friends are laughing at me, saying New York City wrestling is a joke,” he said. “I don’t think so.” Again, there were murmurs of agreement.

Mr. Torriero whistled loudly, and the students began jogging in a ragged circle, occasionally shuffling sideways and doing crossover steps. Next were the front and back handsprings, and then walking on their hands. Then he began drills, putting them in various positions and situations and, from there, showing them the best escapes and reversals.

Then the students were up on their feet, executing the basic takedowns — the single-leg, the double-leg, the fireman’s carry, the dump — and then down on the mat, practicing cradles, half nelsons and other moves.

The practice was delayed because two Bronx teams, whose match had been displaced because of a scheduling error, had asked to hold their match in the gym.

“Typical New York City wrestling situation,” Mr. Torriero said.

He looked around the gym and pointed out a few promising wrestlers. There was Ahmed Elsayed, 16, a 135-pound junior at George Wingate High School who was from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

While fasting during Ramadan, Ahmed attended three wrestling practices a day. The son of Sudanese parents who did not attend college, Ahmed said he had one goal: “I want to go to Brown University and wrestle there.”

Mr. Torriero grew up in prime wrestling country — Suffolk County on Long Island. He was a New York State champion and went on to wrestle for West Virginia University.

He pointed to the female wrestler in the room, Nyasa Bakker, from East New York, Brooklyn, another Wingate student. She practices with and competes against male wrestlers for Wingate’s team — she has a 4-1 record this year — and participates in the women’s wrestling program at Beat the Streets. Its coach, Cheryl Wong, 29, was at the practice watching Nyasa.

Ms. Wong, a business analyst for Morgan Stanley, holds separate, all-female practices at the New York Athletic Club, on 59th Street.

Asked about her wrestling future, Nyasa replied without hesitation, “I’m going to get a college scholarship for wrestling — it’s going to happen.”

Then she jogged back to the mat to throw another male wrestler on his back.

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