Steve Sabo has been coaching wrestling since 1970.During that time, he’s coached wrestlers from collegiate to kindergarten. No matter the age, they all learn the sport the same way: Sabo grapples with them.
“He gets in there and does the moves with us,” said Brunswick High School wrestler John Cano.
In wrestling, an explanation of even the most basic techniques can cause information overload. For example, Sabo instructs some of the Pirates on how to perform a “change over,” moving an opponent from one side of the body to another. The goal is simple, but factor in the person grappling you is resisting every effort you make to move them, explaining the move can be a cumbersome task.
Where are your feet? What is your posture? What are your hands doing? How do you limit their movements?
Step-by-step Sabo walks Cano and his partner, Cole Hinson, through the technique and before, like a magician’s flourish, he asked a rhetorical question.
“What just happened?” He asked the team.
Hinson, who is one of Brunswick High’s heavyweight and not a simple opponent to move, hand been changed over to Cano’s opposite side.
Drilling is second nature to Sabo, he’s taught hundreds of changeovers to hundreds of wrestlers during his decades of coaching experience, but he sees his job as making the technique itself second nature to his pupils.
The best way to do that is start young, he said.
“We want to get kids exposed to what wrestling is,” Sabo said. “A lot of the kids in this area have no concept of what the sport is or what it’s about.”
In 2003, after moving from northern Virginia where the National Wrestling Hall of Fame bestowed him a Lifetime Service Award, Sabo and his wife moved to Brunswick and he started the Glynn Coastal Rattler’s youth wrestling club.
He has all new responsibilities this year. After former wresting coach Andre DuMortier stepped down, Pirates soccer coach Kevin Kavanaugh took over the program to prevent it from being axed. The sum of Kavanaugh’s wrestling experience isn’t zero, his son was a committed wrestler, but his concept of the techniques is limited.
That’s when Glynn Athletic Director Steve Waters went to Sabo for help. He volunteers time, shuffling between Glynn Academy and Brunswick High coaching up student athletes. Most of his time is spent at Brunswick, since Glynn coach Adam Winkler has more coaching experience than his counterpart at Brunswick.
“I’m helping the programs raise their technique to see if we can raise the competitiveness on the state-level,” Sabo said. “In order for kids to get the moves … you have to practice the move 25, 30, 50 times. … It has to be automatic.”
Sabo’s involvement with the high school programs is also like having an in-house player development director. Sabo’s youth program is an intimate session between the hall-of-famer and the next crop of wrestlers making their way to high school. That may be the best way to build the programs’ numbers in the future.
Sabo and Kavanaugh tried expanding the Pirates’ roster earlier this year, talking to the freshman and junior varsity football players about the translatable skills between football and wrestling. No dice.
“It’s not important to them,” Sabo said. “Unless the sport is important in the school, kids don’t want to come out.”
So, maybe its up to Brunswick’s current wrestlers to put in the effort to grow the team. Through that, Brunswick was able to add a couple of players, but no more.
So it’s up to the youngsters. Winkler, in his experience, said wrestlers who start younger tend to stay committed to the sport.
“Usually if you’re parents wrestled you’re gonna be in youth program so you’re gonna be ahead of the curve,” Winkler said.
Winkler, a graduate of and former coach at Chamblee High School, admits he was caught off guard by the state of wrestling in Glynn County compared to merto-Atlanta or even nearby Camden County of Effingham County.
Sabo is trying to ramp up excitement for the sport in the Brunswick area. He said he plans on hosting middle school dual meets at the high schools.
While it is a good way to field a competitive event for his youngsters, he and the high school coaching staffs will also have previous connections with avid wrestlers that they can tap into once they get to the high school level. The Risley-Glynn meet is scheduled for Tuesday and Needwood-Jane Macon meet is set for Jan. 19.
Sabo said there is plenty of young talent in the area, it’s just a matter of focusing that talent on wrestling over the team sports kids watch on TV.