KAPAA — Wrestler and Olympic hopeful Sammy Jones knows all about trying to get attention from a well-known wrestling scene.
Jones, who grew up in a small town in Northern Michigan in the Upper Peninsula, didn’t let that deter him. Now he is one of the top-ranked wrestlers in the Greco-Roman style and an Olympic-style qualifier after finishing second at Nationals, where he qualified for the 2020 Olympic Trials.
Kauai Interscholastic Federation’s Mac Pigott had known Jones since 2004, when at the time Pigott and others were making a push towards creating a wrestling scene long before it became a Kauai Interscholastic Federation-sanctioned sport.
Pigott worked on cultivating his wrestling network of college- and international-level wrestlers throughout the years with the desire that when wrestling became a KIF-sanctioned sport, it would have excellent resources. Through Pigott’s efforts, they do.
How an international wrestler like Jones ended up giving a clinic to Kapaa High School wrestlers was through a connection Pigott made with Olympic gold medalist Sammy Slay.
“I started connecting with high-level international and collegiate wrestlers by traveling to national-level competitions and meeting more people at coaching seminars,” Pigott said. “As I started to meet more people, the network got established.”
Pigott would invite these high-level athletes to Kauai and showcase our island’s aloha, encouraging them to surf, showing them hiking spots, and have them put on clinics.
The connection between surfing and wrestling is evident because both sports require discipline, body control, flexibility, and mental acuity virtually unmatched in any game.
Jones, who knows about a different style of surfing on Lake Superior, wanted to visit Kauai with his wife and experience the rugged outdoor life of the islands.
Pigott, who had an established connection with Slay, found out Jones and his wife wanted to come, and that is how they were able to bring Jones to the islands.
Putting on a clinic
Jones put on a clinic for several Kapaa boys and girls wrestlers who are all a crucial part of a developing wrestling scene on Kauai that many hope will soon rival some of the other Hawaiian islands’ success.
“It’s a beautiful thing to come and experience the culture of Kauai wrestling,” Jones said. “There is much excitement in the room, and the guys are excited to wrestle because it’s new to them. I guess it reminds me when I first started wrestling. To see the joy and to hear the story about how wrestling finally came to Kauai, and how coach Mac has worked hard to get wrestling sanctioned in the schools, it’s exciting to see.”
Jones said he got to witness a lot of raw and natural talent the KIF boys and girls wrestlers showcased on full display.
“This is a special trip for me coming to Kauai because I get to help create a legacy of wrestling on this island,” Jones said. “It’s a fun thing to be a part of.”
A progressive movement
Coming to Hawaii has allowed Jones also to see the progression of women’s wrestling in Hawaii.
Throughout the years, Hawaii, one of the first states to sanction female wrestling, has spawned some of the best groups of female wrestlers in the country as a result of progressive thinking.
Olympic gold medalist Clarissa Chun, a Honolulu native, comes to mind.
A lot was written about the success of other islands, but the KIF girls wrestlers are in the process of putting Kauai on the figurative map in the wrestling world, and they will prove this during this year’s state competition.
“Hawaii has had a powerhouse of women athletes over the years,” Jones said. “It’s such a blast, and it’s neat to be here to see where so many great athletes are coming from.”
Jones has observed the competitive spirit that makes the KIF and Hawaii a unique place to watch athletic competitions.
“I find in my assessment that everywhere you go is competitive,” Jones said. “There is a lot of passion and hard work, and the competitive spirit of this island has them moving in the right direction. There are a lot of students of wrestling here that are moving in the right direction, and they could make a run at the title shot. The KIF is headed in the right direction for sure.”
The unique aspect of sports is that they can bond a community like no other.
The opening day of the Kapaa wrestling tournament validated this with just seeing the passion of the KIF spectators.
“It’s great to see a community build here,” Jones said. “There is a lot of passion with these wrestlers, and it’s pretty special to see. The sport of wrestling continues to grow here, and it isn’t going to be too long before there are national champions from the island of Kauai. It’s nice to be able to plant some seeds and see the kids’ hearts grow about the sport of wrestling. That helps motivate them to go far even if they don’t continue with the game.”
Scenes indeed aren’t built in a day, but the work Pigott, the athletes and the coaches have put in is an affirmation — the KIF is undoubtedly under construction.
The validation will come when many of Kauai’s best stand on the podium at state.
Jason Blasco, sports reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or email@example.com.