Rick’s Sports Corner: Jon O’Brien, Burbank wrestling coach Upbeat

By Rick Assad

One of the oldest and purest forms of athletics, wrestling is now a sport at Burbank High under the watchful eye of Jon O’Brien.

“The wrestling program was not started by a teacher or administrator. It was led by a group of students who felt they didn’t have a sport or club on campus that represented their interest in individual martial arts,” he said. “A student-led petition circulated last year eventually ended up in the Burbank Unified School District recognizing boys’ and girls’ college wrestling at Burbank High School in June 2022.”

O’Brien believes the team will be a great success.

“When a sport emerges from student-led efforts coupled with strong support from school administrators, that’s a powerful recipe for success,” he said. “That’s exactly what we have in Burbank.”

In some sports there are some physical assets that allow the individual to be successful.

Burbank High boys and girls wrestlers show off their skills. (Photo courtesy of Jon O’Brien)

For example, in soccer it helps to be strong, while in basketball it is better to be tall.

In wrestling, there’s no specific physical type that makes you better.

“The best thing about wrestling is that it’s a sport that anyone can do, but it’s not a sport for everyone,” O’Brien said. “So whether you’re a boy or a girl, tall or short, lanky or stocky, fast or slow – there’s a place for you in the world of wrestling. However, due to its strenuous nature, it is not something that everyone can accomplish. In wrestling you get a strong sense of individualism, courage and pride that sets you apart from the average campus sport.”

Wrestling is good for those who, according to O’Brien, may feel left out.

“Wrestling allows student-athletes who wouldn’t normally fit into another team sport to have their own individual success in wrestling,” he said.

O’Brien said physical strength is important but not the only asset a wrestler must possess.

“While strength and speed certainly don’t hurt, wrestling is a game for technicians,” he said. “We will take pride in being the best technicians we can, results will follow.”

Wrestling teaches these contestants more than just winning and losing.

“The ability to find your own mental and physical limits and consistently find ways to push past them,” O’Brien said of the benefits.

Getting the mat to practice on and use during the games was made possible by a non-profit organization.

Wrestling isn’t easy, but it offers lessons every day. (Photo courtesy of Jon O’Brien)

“Thanks to a generous donation of a wrestling mat from Beat the Streets LA — a 501c3 nonprofit that empowers youth through the sport of wrestling — we have a 40×40 mat to practice on,” O’Brien noted. “But that means little space for a team with over 50 children. So coordinating practices while being mindful of spacing issues will be a challenge – but it’s a good issue for now.”

Part of this team is made up of girls and they’re just as excited to be in the squad as the boys.

“Girls wrestling is one of the fastest growing high school and college sports in the country, with programs and opportunities expanding every day,” said O’Brien. “Here in Burbank we started with just four girls and now we’re down to nine. We take great pride in making sure that our female wrestlers have the same number of matches, tournaments and matches as the boys throughout the year.”

There are checkpoints that bulldog wrestlers must adhere to.

“We have five pillars that guide our student-athletes. As a Burbank wrestler, you are expected to 1) be on time, 2) be an effective communicator, 3) be respectful, 4) be tough, 5) and maintain a high standard (athletic, academic, character),” said O’Brien. “We can’t promise every wrestler will be a state medalist, but what we can promise is that as you progress through the Burbank Wrestling program, you will be a better person at it.”

O’Brien is a forward thinking wrestler and sees a bright future for the teams.

“We don’t care why there hasn’t been wrestling in Burbank in the past,” he said. “What we are brewing in the present is special, so we are focused on building on that and preparing for a bright future.”


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