With all the hype around another good Wauwatosa West/East co-op wrestling team, not much has been written about a young man who has been referred to as 'the heart and soul of our team.'
The wrestler I'm talking about is senior Zewdei Gebremedhin, who has been on the team for the past four years and three years before that at Whitman Middle School. Gebremedhin has a form of autism called Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.
'He has practiced with us every day and wrestled in meets,' Tosa coach Kent Morin said. 'This year on JV, he had a 8-12 record with seven pins. Overall, he went 10-15 and had seven pins. Five of those matches were on varsity. He really has come a long way.
'He participated in our lifting program in the summer for three years and just made marked improvements in four years.'
Gebremedhin is a strong kid, who wrestled at 182 pounds. Whitman coach Mike Jarecki recruited Gebremedhin in seventh grade.
'The coaches came over during lunch to do recruiting,' Gebremedhin said. 'I wanted to learn new skills and to get better at it so I can participate. I learned the single leg, double leg, duck under, a badger and a cruncher.'
One of the guys
'He is really an amazing young man that has been the heart and soul of our team for the past couple years,' Morin said. 'Nobody really treats him different. He does everything that everyone else on the team does in terms of conditioning drilling, wrestling, everything.'
Gebremedhin's positive attitude also has helped out his teammates.
'You couldn't get anyone to say anything bad about Zewdei,' Morin said. 'He's always in a good mood. If you're having a bad day, you would want to go talk to Zewdei because I guarantee you will not be in a bad mood after talking to him. He is just one of the most positive, energetic guys I have ever been around, and I think the team plays off that.'
AD helped out
Jeff Gabrielsen, West's athletic and activities director, also helped get Gebremedhininto the program, coming up with money for an extra coach who works specifically with Gebremedhin.
'One thing is, Zewdei is extremely strong,' Morin said. 'We had to be careful about who we put with him. (Former wrestlers) Aaron Sobieszczyk for three years and Matt Miller both did a fantastic job with him, helping him develop.
'He was like everyone else on the team. It was just a neat situation, but I was thrilled that Gabe was able to make that work for us. That made it a more workable situation.'
Gebremedhin's strength shouldn't be surprising. When asked what he enjoyed the most about wrestling, it always seemed to come back to conditioning.
'I wanted to be more flexible, stay calm and focused,' Gebremedhin said. 'I really enjoy doing a sprint, jogging, forward rolls, a round off, up-downs to 25, situps, pushups.'
Morin said Gebremedhin had the best cruncher on the team.
'It makes me proud of myself,' Gebremedhin said. 'All I have to do is use my hands to squeeze them tightly and throw them to the ground and pin them.'
Everyone enjoyed Gebremedhin, Morin said.
'When I would do the pep assembly, he's always my ace in a hole,' he said. 'When I announced Zewdei, the whole gym would erupt. They love Zewdei.'
This year, Gebremedhin was the winner of the Gordon Nieskes Memorial Scholarship, which is given by the family of past wrestlers to honor their grandfather, Gordon Nieskes. The scholarship is given annually to the senior wrestler who has made the most of his potential.
The recipient is someone who has consistently served as a good role model for the other wrestlers and someone who made his teammates better by modeling his strong work ethic and dedication.
Listening to teammates Noberto 'Berto' Pliego and Cole Acker talk about their teammate, you know Gebremedhin earned the award.
'He is just one of those guys you want on your team, always enthusiastic,' Pliego said. 'I took a year off because of an injury. When I came back, he was so excited to see me back. I was happy to see someone excited to see me back. This is a great guy.'
Acker, who wrestled at 126-132 and didn't have to tangle with Gebremedhin, added one of the highest compliments.
'He's definitely a lot of fun, always positive,' he said. 'I would call him the heart of the team, the guy everyone likes to be around.'