• Rick Capone, Sports Editor

Wrestling: An Andreoni family tradition

It’s the Region 5 wrestling tournament at Franklin County on Saturday, Feb. 11. Wyatt Andreoni is out on the mat grappling against an opponent in the 132-pound weight class. But, he is not alone in his match. Along with encouragement from his teammates and instructions from his coaches, there are four other very important people in his life watching and cheering. On one side of the mat is his older brother, Max, shouting encouragement, while on the other side of the mat is his father, Mike, twisting his body into the position Wyatt is in and shouting instructions and encouragement. Also in the gym is Gavin, his younger brother, and their mom, Rebecca, who is in the stands; both cheering him on. ~~~~~~~~ The two brothers, along with a third brother, Gavin, who also wrestled on the team at times this year, mark the first time that the Mat Jackets have had three brothers on the team at the same time. Sure, there have been two brothers on the team at the same time (see sidebar), but the Andreonis are the first three brothers to take to the mat for Woodford. “Probably the biggest highlight of my life is to watch my boys wrestle for Woodford County,” said Mike, who is a proud father of his three sons, who have followed him into wrestling. Wrestling in the Andreoni family started with Mike, who grew up in Huntsville, Ala., where his father worked in the aerospace program. Mike attended and wrestled at Grissom High School, which was named after one of the seven original astronauts, Gus Grissom. His best finish was second in the state. “I got beat by one guy my junior year and the same guy my senior year,” he said. Then he came to Lexington to try out at the University of Kentucky, which was then coached by Fletcher Carr and Jimmy Carr, and they offered him a scholarship. According to Mike, a friend and he “came up … wrestled all day on Saturday with Joe Carr and Jimmy Carr, spent the night, went back home on Sunday and they offered me a scholarship. … I was the only southerner on the whole wrestling team. Most of them were from Pennsylvania and Ohio.” Unfortunately, his wrestling career at the University of Kentucky was injury plagued. “I battled a lot of injuries,” said Mike. “My knee; I had surgery my freshman year. They took all my cartilage out and that was at the NCAA tournament. That’s when I messed that up, so they redshirted me. Then I battled back with knee and shoulder problems. But (I) ended up starting for three years.” In an interesting twist of fate, when Mike started wrestling at UK, he wrestled with Joe Carr Sr., who was a junior at the time and then, in time, became his coach there. That connection would come full circle in time. After his wrestling career was over, Mike played rugby for 18 years, and along with three friends from the team, he started his own construction business. “We were just sitting around a pub and said let’s put our talents together,” Mike explained. “One guy did interior design, another guy did concrete, I did the carpentry, and the other guy was a businessman. So, we put our talents together and made a company, Phase IV Contractors, Inc., and I’ve been doing it ever since.” Mike met his wife, Rebecca, in 1993 and they were married in Lexington and have been together now for 21-1/2 years. Then, when Max was four years old in 2002, they decided to make the move to Woodford County, which is where Rebecca was from. “We wanted to live in the country,” said Mike. “(And, we) wanted (our children) to go to Woodford County schools.” In 2005, Joe Carr, who by this time was coaching WCHS, talked Mike into taking over the youth program. “And I’ve been there ever since,” said Mike. Over time, each of his children got interested in wrestling and things grew from there. “They were wrestling since they were little,” said Mike.” I mean, they’d just do it because they were boys and doing it on the floor and they found out that dad was an ex-wrestler.” What was most enjoyable for the kids and for Mike was that he became their first coach, as they each became members of the Woodford Youth Wrestling program. He taught them the basics and helped them improve their technical abilities. For Max, 18, and a senior at WCHS, the wrestling “bug” hit him around first grade. “I started getting serious around seventh grade,” said Max. “That’s when it kind of clicked with me. … I wrestled with my dad – he’s the one that started me out.” For Wyatt, 16, and a sophomore at WCHS, he became interested when he was around five or six years old. “I liked it and I kept on wrestling,” he said. “My dad was … my first coach in the youth program. So I got interested in it.” He says he stayed in it after watching his older brother wrestle. “My older brother did it and I wanted to do it and I enjoyed it. So, I just kept on doing it.” In time, he went to Woodford County Middle School and continued his wrestling there and had great results. “I qualified for (middle school) state all three years,” said Wyatt. “In sixth and seventh grade, I did not place. In eighth grade, I came up short and placed sixth.” In addition, in middle school regions, he placed in the top three all three years. “ This year, Wyatt has wrestled on the high school varsity and qualified for the state tournament with a 44-11 record and a region title. Gavin, who’s the youngest of the brothers at age 13 and in seventh grade, also took up wrestling when he was seven or eight years old in the youth program under his dad’s tutelage. He also did it to be like his brothers. “I followed in my brothers’ footsteps because I want to be just like them,” he said. Like his brothers, he’s had good success in middle school. In sixth-grade he placed fifth in the region and did not qualify for state. However, this year, as a seventh-grader, he finished in second place in the region and qualified for state, where he finished sixth. This year, he has also had experience wrestling with the high school varsity team, which, he says, has helped him a lot. “It’s a very good feeling,” explained Gavin. “I’m proud to be wrestling with the high school because they taught me a lot and made me get better.” Max also got his start in the youth program wrestling for his dad. So what got him interested in the sport? “Probably my dad, honestly,” said Max. “He’s the one that put me into the sport. And then just seeing the bigger guys – like my cousins – wrestle all throughout high school. It kind of encouraged me to retain the family tradition somewhat.” Max had solid success in middle school, while also wrestling a little at the high school level in seventh-grade. However, by eighth grade he was good enough to become a member of the high school varsity team. As an eighth-grader, Max finished seventh at state. As a freshman, he had a setback when he was disqualified from wrestling due to ringworm. Then in his sophomore and junior years, he fell just short; in fact, last year he finished in second place. The loss his junior year stung and he decided to take a break from the sport. “That one hit the rough spot pretty hard,” he explained. “I didn’t want to really be around the sport as much throughout the rest of year. … Then, at the start of (this) school year, I decided to play football to kind of get my mind off of everything. I don’t regret doing that at all. That was a very good choice I think. … I recommend it to anybody who has trouble with kind of sticking to the drive, because wrestling is hard and you need a break, in my opinion. I don’t think you should wrestle year round.” However, as football was winding down and wrestling season was on the horizon, he decided to get back to the mats, and this year he has become a team leader. In addition, during the season, his brother Wyatt asked him if he’d help him out, teach him some things and give him some pointers. It was good experience for Max, who took it to heart and, considering the improvement of Wyatt’s wrestling skills during the season, it helped his brother a lot. “It made me feel really good. I loved hearing it,” said Max about having his brother ask him for some help. “I think the main thing that came from that was, I don’t know if it’s more of encouragement or kind of like a necessity to ask your big brother, but I liked the aspect of it. I like what it told me – that he wanted to get better. … If he keeps doing it, he’s going to get better.” Of course, watching his brothers wrestle is a two-edged sword for him at times. “It puts me in the match, but it frustrates me at the same time because they’re better than what they show some of the times, and then some of the times, it’s like – where did they learn that, that’s incredible,” said Max. “I love watching them. I love teaching them. And I just want them to be more successful than I was. That’s probably my main goal.” As for his own wrestling this year, it’s been nothing short of exceptional. He goes into the state tournament ranked No. 1 in Kentucky in his weight class (182 pounds) with an undefeated 50-0 record, with 48 of those wins coming by pins. Going into state, he doesn’t really care as much about winning his own personal state title because his main goal is to see his team win its 14th state championship. Of course, if Max wrestles true to form, he should come away with his first state championship title, and if that happens, he’s not sure how he’ll feel about it. “I’m not sure how to explain it,” he said. “… I can’t put a word on it. … I’m not going to say I’m not going to be proud of myself. But I would just be like ... I’m glad it all paid off in the end, because the past two years were pretty hard on me.” His dad knows how he’ll feel about Max winning a state title to close out his high school career, especially after all he’s been through in his career. “That’s my ultimate dream is for him to (win state)” said Mike. “…He’s just had a rash of bad luck. And, I think this year, it’s going to be no doubt. I think he’s mentally a lot more ready; (he’s) put everything aside, and I think he’s just going to go out there (and) I think he’ll pin everybody, to be honest.” ~~~~~~~~ Later in the day at the Region 5 tournament, after Wyatt won his first region title in the 132-pound weight class, Max took to the mat and won his fourth region title with Wyatt and Mike cheering him on. This week, both brothers will be wrestling in the KHSAA State Wrestling Championships, where each will attempt to capture a state title. For the Andreonis, it’s just another Saturday participating in their favorite sport.

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