The Santa Monica High School wrestling program kicked off its 50th year of competition with a third-place finish at the American Classic tournament at Chino Hills High School Saturday and Sunday, December 6th and 7th.

Every Santa Monica High wrestler placed in the top four, with two earning gold medals. Sami Syed and Ben Yura were chosen as “Outstanding Wrestlers” for the light and heavyweight divisions, respectively.

“This was a great start and it really shows the efforts these kids have put in over the summer and throughout this fall,” Viking wrestling coach Mark Black said. “People are surprised when they hear kids on the Westside actually get up at 6 a.m. to run with the team before school starts, and then train every day after school for another three hours.”

The Santa Monica Team has crowned three individual California State Wrestling Champions in recent years and sent several athletes to NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division I wrestling programs around the country.

Black said he has worked to bring the school’s wrestling program back to the prominence it held in the 1980s, when Lawrence Jackson won three back-to-back State Championships for the school under the tutelage of current athletic director Norm Lacey. Black has qualified wrestlers for the state meet each of the last seven years after an 11-year dry spell.

Assistant varsity coach Brent Wright, a three-time Oregon State University champion, joined the coaching staff in 2000 and has provided technical skills and an intimate knowledge of the sport, Black said.

Physical therapist Robert Forster has also assisted the team as volunteer strength, conditioning and rehabilitation coach. Forster brings nearly 30 years of experience and has worked with such premier athletes as five-time Olympic medallist Jackie Joyner Kersee and her husband-coach Bob Kersee, as well as Pete Sampras and Kobe Bryant.

“The program has the student athletes working up to 18 hours per week with scientific training methods previously held for elite and professional athletes, and it is paying off in the ethical pursuit of peak performance,” said Forster, who also volunteers as a Strength and Conditioning coach for the Santa Monica High defending State Champion soccer team.

The Santa Monica Bay Wrestling Club, a nonprofit organization created by Black, Forster and Santa Monica resident Steve Shapiro, has helped the team by renovating the school wrestling room and sponsoring technique clinics.

The club has also secured a grant from the LA84 Foundation to create new wrestling programs at John Adams and Lincoln Middle Schools in Santa Monica, Black said.

The Vikings’ home competition schedule kicks off with a six-way dual meet at Santa Monica High’s South Gym at 3 p.m. Wednesday, December 17th.