Atlantic City was chosen to host one of the main events of the National United Wrestling Association for Youth, or NUWAY, which is a group that promotes the sport of wrestling at the grassroots level by staging tournaments across the country. The organization is modeled after the Michigan Youth
Wrestling Association, which began in 2001 with a few hundred members and now boasts more than 9,000.
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Dubbed the NUWAY Summer Nationals, wrestling starts 9 a.m. each day Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, July 26-28, in the second-floor Avalon Room of Harrah’s Resort Waterfront Conference Center. Competition is open to all school-aged boys and girls in weight classes starting at 40 pounds.
Teams and individuals from 20 different states have signed up to compete in A.C. There will also be separate open or post high-school divisions for men and women over age 18. Folkstyle wrestling rules apply, which are those used in scholastic and collegiate wrestling. Medals will be awarded to the Top 4 finishers in each weight class.
Eddie Aponte is a former standout scholastic wrestler for Egg Harbor Township High School whose love for the sport never waned after graduation. He is entered to compete in the open folkstyle 140-pound class, which starts Thursday morning, and also in a grappling tournament — a form of mixed martial arts similar to Brazilian jiu-jitsu — taking place in the Avalon Room starting 1 p.m. Thursday.
“This is an organization (NUWAY) that usually hosts events in places like New York, Las Vegas and California, so I love the fact that they’re bringing it to Atlantic City and the Jersey Shore,” says Aponte, a former district champ and state qualifier at EHT High at 135 pounds. “NUWAY Summer Nationals were in New York City last year, so showing Atlantic City some love I think is awesome.
“This is an area that kind of goes in cycles as far as how good the wrestling talent is,” Aponte adds. “And an event like this can do a lot as far as helping to generate more interest in the sport, and keeping talent levels high.”
Aponte is a coach for the EHT Eagles youth wrestling program, which is a branch of the South Jersey Wrestling Association youth-development organization. His son Adrienne will compete in A.C. in the youth 65- to 70-pound class, and about a half-dozen other youths from the EHT program will also be part of the competition.
Back in April, Eddie Aponte won the 141-pound class of the 14th annual War at the Shore Folkstyle Nationals at the Wildwood Convention Center, beating Nikolas Gialamas by 6-1 decision in the championship bout. In March, he and several EHT Eagles teammates competed in a regional qualifier in Delaware that was part of the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Association. Aponte won the 142-pound open class there and then took the bronze medal at 142 in the MAWA regionals in Salisbury, Maryland, on May 6-7.
“I like to compete as often as I can,” says Aponte, who tallied an 82-12 record as a three-year varsity starter for EHT High, and was a teammate of three-time district champ and state placewinner Jimmy Garrett, whose 108 career wins is the most in EHT High history. “Right now I’m just working mainly on getting back in shape.”
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Aponte’s approach to wrestling has always been to seek out the top talent in his weight class. When he was a senior 135-pounder at EHT in 2006, he reached the Region 8 tournament finals and had to face Jordan Burroughs of Winslow Township High. Burroughs was still six years away from winning Olympic gold in 2012, and had yet to establish himself completely as one of the best wrestlers in New Jersey state history, but every fan of the sport was well aware of who he was at every high school tournament.
Others likely cut weight or bumped up a class to avoid him, but Aponte took him head on. Burroughs won by late first-period fall — later taking the 2006 state title at 135 inside A.C.’s Boardwalk Hall. Aponte, whose record as a senior was 32-3, saw his run-in with Burroughs less as a loss and more as a learning experience.
“I never shy away from anybody, anywhere — in the practice room, in a tournament, wherever,” Aponte says. “That helps you toughen up, and that’s what I try to teach my kids — don’t try to dodge people hoping it will help you place better in a tournament. Focus on getting better and you won’t have to worry about that.
“One of the first clubs I went to that really opened my eyes to the physicality of the sport was in Philadelphia called the Catch If You Can Wrestling Club,” Aponte adds. “It was a bunch of Philly boys who were just as physical as can be. I was about 12 or 13 years old and getting thrown around a lot, but I was just eating it all up. I had a hard time, but that’s how you learn in this sport.”