Using wrestling as a tool and motivator, Boston Youth Wrestling teaches youth to successfully overcome socio-economic challenges that lead to educational gaps, poor health and negative community relationships, imparting skills such as self reliance, discipline and commitment to others that apply both on and off the mat, in school and beyond. Our mission is to promote youth development in inner-city Boston by inspiring personal, academic and athletic success through the sport of wrestling. Started in 2012 by founder José Valenzuela, a veteran BPS classroom teacher of 10 years, Boston Youth Wrestling has grown today to serve 500 youth in Boston, Chelsea, and Lynn across 17 program sites throughout the school year and the summer. Today BYW offers three core school-based wrestling programming partnership levels called “Engage,” “Enrich,” and “Evolve.”
We use wrestling as a hook to achieve greater goals for students, like improved motivation in school, improved self-esteem, and making a successful transition from middle to high school. We provide three different program options that allow us to work with youth of all levels. Our programs levels are designed to engage, enrich, and evolve our youth. Wrestlers train in-season 2-3 times per week with experienced coaches that help them develop fundamental skills in the basics of wrestling, and use these skills to instill in our wrestlers habits of mind that emphasize self-discipline, hard work, responsibility to the team and school community. Our students have responded to this demanding and rigorous training by successfully competing in friendly interscholastic competitions along with local, statewide, and regional tournaments. In each of the last four years, our Boston team has placed in the top 2 at the state qualifying tournament, a remarkable achievement. For many students, this can be their first taste of success in any school-based endeavour, and this success has a contagious effect on the other aspects of their lives.
Our “Evolve” middle school program is designed so that it equips our students with the tools to achieve high school success - data shows that struggling 6-8th graders already show signs that may lead to an increase in the likelihood of dropping out of high school. The “Early Warning” indicators for high school success that we can impact are the ABCs: Attendance; Behavior (i.e. number of discipline referrals in a school year); and Coursework (i.e. grades in core subjects). Tracking student progress (and strengthening the feedback/data loop through student-friendly reports) during an extended wrestling season throughout the school year, and with a dedicated team academic coordinator, helps ensure students learn habits that empower them to succeed beyond middle school.
Schools that partner with us for our full season receive a 17 week program that gives students a higher dosage of wrestling training coupled with academic practice. In our initial survey of student outcomes, the majority of our students made positive gains in their grades and attendance, and reduced the number of times they were referred to discipline (i.e. detention, suspension). We believe these additional hours in the classroom are helping our students to make connections to the lessons taught by our wrestling coaches: discipline, hard work, and commitment to achieving goals. Aside from receiving homework help, all of our students were instructed on important study skills, like organization and goal setting, and these lessons were reinforced on the mat. We also plan to use this time with students to establish college and career exploration to start to create the for students beyond the mat.
Our Coaches in Training Mentoring Program has become a key feature of our work with youth in the summer months. Thanks to initial funding from the Shannon Community Initiative through the State Executive Office of Public Safety and the Boston Police Department, as well as additional funding from the Boston Centers For Youth And Families, the Mayor’s Youth Employment Fund, and the Lenny Zakim Fund, each year BYW hires between 5-8 youth every summer to work in a leadership development program that trains them on coaching and mentorship, and then sends them out to community partners across the city to work with young people at our mini-camps, teaching them the fundamentals of wrestling and serving as role-models to the youngest ones in our community. This innovative approach has created a participant-to-coach pipeline which sustains our coaching ranks with former participants who best understand the needs of our youth. To date, three former interns have worked as middle school coaches for our program since 2017.
Using wrestling as a tool and motivator, Boston Youth Wrestling teaches youth to successfully overcome socio-economic challenges that lead to educational gaps, poor health and negative community relationships, imparting skills such…