Honesdale wrestling team makes a summer pilgrimage to the "Old Country"
It's a common occurrence for high school athletic teams to attend camps during the summer months.
The vast majority of these clinics take place at colleges and universities a few hours from home. Coaches and athletes pack their bags, climb aboard a bus and head out for a few days of intensive training.
Every once in awhile, though, a local team has the chance to do something really special during the off-season. That was the case with Honesdale's varsity wrestling team this month as they hopped on a jet and flew halfway around the world...
“Yeah, we did something a little bit different this year,” said Coach Ryan Chulada with a big smile. “We went to Italy.”
Mike Ondich is the newest member of the Red & Black wrestling staff.
A veteran of 30 years teaching and coaching in New York City, Ondich recently retired and moved to Wayne County. He owns an impressive mat resume, including being named USA Wrestling Coach of the Year in New York.
Once he got settled in, Mike started getting the itch to coach again. And so, he contacted Chulada, who was only to happy to have him come aboard.
It was Ondich who did all the logistical work in putting this incredible trip together. He'd organized similar trips for his former team and felt strongly that it would be an unforgettable experience for the Hornets.
“I really want to thank Mike for all the hard work he did making this happen,” said Coach Chulada. “And we've always gotten such amazing support from the school district and the community. So, a big thank you to them as well.”
A total of 13 Honesdale wrestlers arrived in Italy after a long flight and settled into the charming seaside town of Scalea.
There, they began several days of intense competition against Junior National Team grapplers from countries like the UK, Italy, France, Hungary, Sweden and Switzerland.
“It was an amazing experience for us and for the kids,” Coach Chulada said of the time they spent with the Liuzzi Wrestling Club.
“I think it was a real eye-opener for everybody. The level of competition was really high. But, I'm definitely proud of our kids. They're going to have some pretty cool stories to tell their own kids someday.”
One of those wrestlers paid a visit to the TWI Sports Desk on Wednesday to share his individual tale.
Tristyn Bodie is heading into his junior year at HHS. He's been a member of the Hornet wrestling program since elementary school.
Bodie carved out a niche for himself in the starting line-up almost immediately upon his arrival and he's never looked back.
The son of Korey and Toni Bodie, Tristyn burst onto the scene as a freshman at 106 pounds. He powered his way to 29 wins, a district medal and a trip to regionals.
Bodie was every bit as good as a sophomore as he piled up another 29 victories and earned a second straight D2 medal.
This year, he's ramped up his off-season training and set his sights high.
“There are a few things that I really want to do this season,” he said. “I want to be Top Three at the Hurricane Classic. I want to win the district tournament, make the finals at regionals and place at states.”
A first step along the path to realizing these goals came during the team trip.
Bodie went toe-to-toe with some extremely elite wrestlers during the clinic. And, while he more than held his own, Tristyn's eyes were opened to the level of talent outside Pennsylvania and the United States.
“They were pretty tough,” he admitted. “I got beat up on a little bit. But, I learned a lot, too, especially about how important mental toughness is.”
Outside the clinic, the highlight of Tristyn's trip was visiting Rome and getting to see the Colosseum. It's an experience he won't forget anytime soon.
“That was really cool,” Tristyn said. “I kept thinking about all the gladiators who fought there. It really kind of hit home … all those men who stood there before me and the battles they fought.”
Both Bodie and his mentor believe the Hornets are back on the path to team success this winter.
“I think our biggest goal is to win districts again,” Tristyn said. “We have a really good bunch of kids coming up and the rest of us are pretty focused. I think if we work hard we definitely can fight for a state medal.”
Coach Chulada agrees whole-heartedly with that assessment.
“I'm optimistic,” he said. “We have a great bunch of kids and they're really buying into what we're trying to teach. Nothing's ever carved in stone, but I think this trip kind of set the tone for where we want to go as a team.”
Honesdale powered its way to a 20-6 dual meet record in 2018-19. The Hornets advanced to the District Two semifinals before falling to Delaware Valley in Class AAA.
The Red & Black then finished seventh overall at the individual tournament to close out the campaign.
They'll open up the 2019-20 season on the road at the Battle of Bethlehem on Dec. 9 at Freedom High School.