The beauty of it is a lot of the kids that wrestle love the fact that they are in control.Tony Onorato, Ebenezer Middle School coach
RINCON — If you ask Tommy Onorato anything about wrestling, he’ll give you countless reasons why it’s by far the best sport. The second-year head coach for Ebenezer Middle School is building the program brick by brick for future high school competitors.
Although Effingham County has a youth program, this is just the second season wrestling has been implemented at the middle school level. In the long run, it will pay dividends for prep coaches who will inherit grapplers with a couple years of experience under their belt.
“It’s exciting that they come in here and a lot of them are new to the sport,” Onorato said. “We just want to teach kids the fundamentals. If we can do that and keep them excited about a sport, then that’s always an exciting thing to be part of that.”
His main priority is to infuse the love of the sport into the young minds he molds everyday at practice.
“I think our numbers have been really good,” he said. “It’s a sport where it’s not in with tradition. There are things that you have to try to educate people on.
“In that regard, we are still in the process of trying to take a foothold in terms of what our sport has to offer.”
One of the biggest lessons he wants his athletes to learn is accountability. Onorato enjoys the fact that wrestlers are responsible for every decision they make on the mat.
“What I love about wrestling is that there is nothing easy about it,” he said. “Wrestling forces you to go out by yourself. You don’t get timeouts. You don’t get substitutions. You have to learn to take ownership of yourself and you’re held accountable in front of the whole gym.
“I love that side of the sport because not many sports offer that component.”
According to Onorato, what separates wrestling from other sports is it gives athletes a chance to learn how to make decisions on their own.
“The beauty of it is a lot of the kids that wrestle love the fact that they are in control,” Onorato said. “In other sports, someone else is calling the play. In wrestling, you get to call your own stuff out there when you get out there.
“Our job as coaches is to make sure we lead you in the right way of your decision making and make sure things turn out the best for you. I love that element of the sport.”
Onorato, who wrestled at West Virginia University, is working to bring the prominence and excitement of wrestling to the Deep South.
“I come from a family where wrestling was our table talk,” he said. “Growing up in the North, wrestling is very much part of the community. It’s a huge sport up there. You come to the South and it’s more baseball and football oriented.
“The South is starting to get its legs and trying to work and create its own tradition.”
And for Onorator, the sport is more than just wins and losses. He believes the tests wrestlers face on the mat will serve its purpose long after they graduate.
“It’s exciting for the kids and a great opportunity for them to learn all the life lessons out of the sport,” he said. “I think wrestling is a great sport because it doesn’t have a shape or a size to it. Anybody can wrestle and I think that’s the neat thing wrestling has to offer.”
Onorator, who coached several years at South Effingham High School, said you must have a never-ending passion for the sport if you want to succeed.
“You have to be a learner of it,” he “You never know it all. Be excited when you learn new things. You’re going to win some and lose some.
“If you lose, it’s not the end of the world. It’s the fact that you embraced the challenge and you want to find out how good you are.”
Onorator also believes wrestling provides a rigorous, but healthy environment for those who don’t have the physique needed to compete in other sports.
“For smaller kids that like to be physical, a game like football is not always the avenue they can follow,” Onorator said. “Football requires an element of size and speed. In wrestling, you have a weight class for you and that part of it is exciting and appealing.”