‘Cardiac Kids’ drives wrestlers to improve skills
Jay Coman delivered a practice-ending inspiration to a couple dozen sweat-soaked, chest-heaving wrestlers who had just finished an intensive two-hour training session with the Cardiac Kids wrestling club.
“This club is a privilege for you,” said Coman, a 2005 state champion at Durham’s Jordan High School, where he returned for a few years as an assistant coach after wrestling at N.C. State. “This club will help you to meet your goals.”
Coman, who now lives in the state’s western mountains, was a guest instructor at the club. He brought a promising wrestler from Alleghany High School in Sparta with him for the grueling workout with other students of the sport who have amassed hundreds of victories and individual championships among them.
There is a star-studded rotation of guest clinicians who assist coaches from area high schools who volunteer their time to the highly touted club.
“We had Bob Guzzo, who’s a hall of fame coach from N.C. State; we had Will Rowe, who’s a new assistant coach at Duke University come in,” Mike Kendall, founder and now director of operations for Cardiac Kids, said of some of this year’s instructors.
“We’ve had Frank Beasley, who’s a new assistant coach at N.C. State; we’ve had some UNC wrestlers come in and be guest clinicians.”
Kendall started the club in 1995 during his 10-year run as wrestling coach at Chapel Hill High, though it went on hiatus for several years while he coached at East Wake. But his aspiration remains unchanged since reconstituting the club three years ago.
“My whole goal was to raise the level of wrestling in the state,” Kendall said. “That’s my ultimate goal. If our kids are better in this area, then other kids around the state will have to keep up with them. They will see hard work can pay off.”
Wrestlers come from Orange County, Durham, Granville and Person counties, and the club takes all comers, regardless of ability to pay the low-cost membership.
He and his staff take the wrestlers to off-season tournaments around the state and to other states to expose them to the best competition.
Already this scholastic season, Cardiac Kids members have won numerous titles and place finishes in several area tournaments. In the tough Jim King/Orange Invitational at Orange High School, if Cardiac Kids had entered as a team, it would have had more champions (seven) than any of the 22 schools entered. One runner-up and eight consolation place winners also are club members.
But Kendall’s philosophy is about more than learning the martial arts techniques that enable a wrestler to toss his opponent through the air or pummel him into submission with a torturous leg ride or arm bar.
“The character that this sport builds, the commitment, the dedication — we need more wrestlers in the schools than ever before (because of) the discipline it teaches,” Kendall said. “We want these people to become better men and women on and off the mats, being more respectful, more accountable, better citizens.”
Kendall, a transplant from wrestling-rich Oklahoma, knows what it takes to be a champion.
He was North Carolina’s first four-time state titlist while wrestling at Albemarle High School from 1988-91, and he did it with a 153-0 record. He was a three-time high school All-American, Greco-Roman national champion in 1991 and an ACC champ on the UNC squad that finished sixth when it hosted the 1994 NCAA finals.
“I know some of these kids will never be national champions or All-Americans, but they work hard,” Kendall said of the Cardiac Kids.
He promotes a stepladder approach to the sport, with each wrestler setting personal goals.
“We’ve got several kids in the club who don’t even start for their high school wrestling team,” Kendall said. “They’ve been told by their coaches that they need to get more mat time. The only way you get better in wrestling is by wrestling.”
Terrence Moore, who wrestles for nationally ranked junior college powerhouse Neosho County Community College in Chanute, Kansas, walked that stepladder to a pair of state-qualifying seasons at Jordan. He was back at the club during the holiday break talking about the impact Cardiac Kids had on his career.
“Coach Coman and my family told me about a guy named Coach Kendall, Mike Kendall,” Moore said. “He’s a great guy. I started working out with him the whole season before my junior year, and I headed into the season feeling way better because it was my first year ever wrestling.
“This has made me a way better wrestler. I think I went from zero to 100 within two years, and I headed off to college and I feel more loose when I wrestle. The practices are way harder than my school, and you get tougher guys to wrestle. You just get beat up every day and get better.”
Northern High senior Rodney Shepard — a 2011 double All-American at the Fargo Nationals, the nation’s premiere freestyle and Greco-Roman tournament for young wrestlers — is among those who credits Cardiac Kids with his development.
“This club definitely is where you get that edge, whether it’s in the off-season or like today, just coming in on a Sunday,” Shepard said. “This is what gets you to the next level. You’ve got to do things outside of your regular practice, whether it be running on your own or getting in shape.”
The coaches have been especially helpful in teaching folkstyle (scholastic), freestyle and Greco-Roman moves, he said.
“The coaches have really good knowledge of all the styles and how to cross them over,” Shepard said. “Some moves in freestyle you can use in folkstyle and vice versa.
“My favorite part about this club is it’s kind of a big melting pot of everybody in the area, but everybody has the same goal to get better. When you surround yourself around those types of people, good things are going to happen. You’re all going to get better together.”