Winning Values from the Wrestling Mat

Though the Molokai Middle School wrestling program has only competed for two years, young athletes walked away with some big titles by the end of this season’s program. Rather than skill, Coach Benny Venenciano attributes their two, first-place tournament wins to passion and soul.

“When you have the will, the beauty of this sport is the balance of taking care of yourself physically and mentally, and doing your schoolwork,” said Venenciano. “At this developmental age, I wanted wrestling to be that sport for them.”

During the winter season, 19 athletes wrestled after school and about half had no prior wrestling experience, according to Venenciano. Three days a week, they would practice alongside the high school team for two hours, conditioning for competition as well as their future in the Farmers wrestling program.

In the first of three competitions this season, Molokai Middle School  (MMS) placed second in Lahaina due to a low number of wrestlers at the start of the season, according to Kelly Ka`awa-Richardson, MMS student activities coordinator.

In January, the athletes traveled to Oahu to compete against several private and public intermediate schools, placing first.  They went on to also win the state tournament at Maui’s Baldwin gym, where 10 of 19 athletes competed in the finals, taking home the trophy.

“There’s a difference between the competition they go against,” said assistant coach Bill Umi. “Other teams compete year round…so going into it, they’re hungry to compete and to win.”

Umi said this season’s success largely had to do with Venenciano’s wrestling expertise and skill. As a MHS alumni, Venenciano’s roots are grounded with the Farmers wrestling program. Part of the 1987 team, both Venenciano and his twin brother were two of the first Molokai wrestlers to win the state championships.

While his experience includes a championship title, his coaching uses a humble philosophy.

“All my life, I considered losing as a value gained,” said Venenciano. “Losing is okay if one’s trying their best. As long as they go out there, performs and tries their best, that’s a win.”

His approach hasn’t only been successful on the mat; it has also grabbed attention in school.

“The kids’ maturity level has risen greatly,” said Ka`awa-Richardson. “The values they’re learning applies elsewhere and that’s been the most impressive—to see that cross-over.”

Though the regular season is over, Venenciano is planning an on-island tournament, bringing teams across the state and from the mainland to compete in the Barn this spring. He encourages kids to come out for the program next season.

“Take a chance!” said Venenciano. “These kids faced their fears and I believe every student should have this experience to benefit themselves and their futures.”


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