First grader Jack Pinto, along with his 19 classmates and six teachers, lost their lives in a senseless act of violence on Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The following day, Jack had planned to step on a wrestling mat for his first match ever — but never got his chance.
An Urbana wrestling parent came up with the idea for both the Urbana High School (UHS) squad and the Predators youth league team to honor his memory through the season. Between the two local teams, about 150 T-shirts were made with, “We wrestle for Jack Pinto, Newtown, CT,” printed on the back, showing the special bond created between wrestlers.
“He was one of us,” said UHS Head Coach Ben Arneson. “We wanted to celebrate his life by wearing his name on our backs.”
This season, wrestling took on a whole new meaning. The UHS wrestling team made history by winning its first ever Maryland High School State Championship, the first Frederick County team to win the tournament in its 43-year history, and the Predators repeated as Mason Dixon champions.
“The perception is that wrestling is all about individual performance, but our championship season came to reality because of 36 committed young men who laid it on the line every day. From the first day of practice, we discussed the need for everyone to bring their best every day, and that’s what this group did. They were one family with one focus and one heartbeat,” said Arneson.
Speaking of family, the Hawks lightweight wrestlers, freshman Jake Makosy (106 pounds) and his sophomore brother, Tyler (113 pounds), were key contributors to the Hawks’ success this year.
“We make each other better whether it is wrestling, lifting or running; we do everything together except sleeping and bathing. Our entire family is very competitive including our younger brother, Kevin, who won his fourth youth league state title this year,” said Tyler Makosy.
“We love wrestling, and the thrill of competition drives us to work as hard as possible to achieve the goals we set for ourselves and our team,” Jake said. Their hard work paid off this year: Jake finished sixth in the state and Tyler fifth, earning valuable points for the Hawks team title.
The courage and focus of each wrestler at the state wrestling championship this year was quite impressive to witness. The support of each wrestler for their teammates was apparent. This certainly looked more like one big family than a bunch of individuals.
Morgan Way, a sophomore who finished runner-up at 120 pounds, showed incredible athleticism and cat-like quickness throughout the tournament.
“His leadership on and off the mat was priceless,” said Assistant Coach Justin Krop.
Also finishing runner-up was 182-pound senior Mike Virnelson.
“Mike started wrestling in ninth grade and finished his career as state runner up. This is incredible as he almost didn’t wrestle this year, but when he did decide, he locked in and the rest is history,” said Arneson. “I feel the same about [285-pound junior] Nick Keller, who started wrestling as a freshman and finished fourth in the [state] tournament. His growth as a wrestler and young man has been fun to watch.”
Senior Nick Frank finished fifth in his final state tournament.
“Nick has been a huge part of our rise in the Maryland wrestling community over the last four years. His direct and indirect contribution to our program during his career is unimaginable,” said Arneson. “His effort, determination and sportsmanship are a great example for everyone. I know Nick didn’t finish where he wanted this year but I do know his future is bright beyond the walls of Urbana High School.”
Arneson summed up the season: “In honoring Jack Pinto’s memory through our season and wrestling brotherhood, we hope in some small way it brought comfort to those impacted by this tragedy.”
Timothy Mellott is an active Urbana community member who founded the Southern Frederick County Youth Athletic Facilities, coaches Predators Wrestling, and is an FCA Character Coach at Urbana and Seneca Valley High Schools. Mellott lives in Ijamsville with his wife, Beth Ann, and son Parker.