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From Mat to Mission: NA Wrestlers Lend a Hand at Light of Life

Dec 01, 2014 10:29AM ● Published by Veronica Tucker

On Sunday, Nov. 9, a group of young wrestlers accustomed to spending weekends performing mat drills, working arm bars and perfecting half-nelsons instead left the gym and worked as a team in another way—preparing and serving dinner to those visiting the Light of Life Mission.

“North Allegheny wrestling is a unique group of boys, many of whom have been competing together for over 10 years, and they were looking for a way to play a meaningful role in the community,” explained Natalie Kalmeyer, concessions co-director, North Allegheny Varsity Wrestling Boosters. 

The boosters approached Light of Life Mission about a possible project. “Light of Life is a Christian organization which provides breakfasts and dinners to men, women and children in need 365 days a year,” explained Kate Wadsworth, public relations manager for the mission. “In addition, we offer a year-round emergency shelter for men and long-term programs for men and women who are homeless and looking for a life change.”

With the help of the North Allegheny wrestling team, Light of Life hosted their first Samaritan Supper last month, with volunteers preparing the meal off-site and then serving it at New Hope Church, a Light of Life partner. More than 110 poor and homeless men, women and children were served a meal consisting of barbecued ham, halushki, baked beans, southwest corn and peach cobbler. “We have been preparing meals for hundreds of athletes over the years for our large, regional tournaments, so we felt well-equipped to prepare this meal for these deserving folks,” said Kalmeyer.

In collaboration with the Light of Life kitchen director, NA varsity wrestlers had a ‘practice run’ last season helping to prepare food for a large tournament, and they used this experience to help them get ready for the Nov. 9 event. “It was an awesome experience,” said Sean Kalmeyer, a junior wrestler. “The best part was seeing the look on some of their faces when we served them food.”

“Seeing all of the ads on TV about helping people in other countries, I didn’t realize that there was such a need right here in the Pittsburgh area,” added sophomore wrestler Jake Hinkson. “It felt really good to help out.”

North Allegheny wrestlers have a history of success on the mat, in the classroom and in the community. The team consists of two separate organizations; NA Tiger Junior Wrestling (approximately 80 to 90 wrestlers in grades 1–6) and NA Wrestling Association (approximately 75 wrestlers in grades 7-12). “The NA teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s are generally regarded as some of the best high school wrestling teams ever,” said Rusty Woodley, president of the North Allegheny Wrestling Association. “This year is looking just as promising as the team hopes to qualify for the state tournament for the fourth year in a row. In addition, many former NA wrestlers make up much of the NA coaching staff today, keeping the spirit of giving back alive.” 

Clearly, this is a special group of young athletes. “These boys are much like a family. Since wrestling has a smaller membership than, say, football, the kids get to know each other very well,” Kalmeyer explained. “Every year, we graduate seniors who have been on the team since first grade. The older wrestlers take a special interest in helping the younger ones improve. In the process, a strong bond develops. When we recognized this, we knew their great traits could be shared with the community.”

Both Light of Life Mission and the North Allegheny wrestlers have high hopes after this highly successful event. “We were anxious and excited to see how the first event went,” Wadsworth shared. “Now that it has gone well, we would love to have the ability to expand our meal service, which is only possible with the help of generous volunteers. Our goal is to be a good neighbor and serve beyond our own doors.”

“I hope this experience will serve as a poignant reminder to these wrestlers that not all people have the opportunities which they have,” Kalmeyer added. “I hope that they remember this experience and are able to continue to use their strengths to give back and improve the lives of others.”

It seems that this hope has already been realized. “Serving the homeless was a humbling experience,” said Jake Woodley, a sophomore wrestler.  “It felt good to help people in need, and I definitely want to do it again.”  

To learn more about Light of Life Mission, visit www.lightoflife.org.


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