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Wrestling Makes a Difference in the Life of One Family

Pictured are the Native American wrestlers representing different Arizona tribes at the Piestewa Games.

My name is Su:k Fulwilder, and I am very honored to be the mother of these talented children of mine, all of them. Two of them, Joaquin, who is 14, and Shady, who is almost 16, have benefited greatly from participating in the Salt River High School wrestling program.

Joaquin has always been very artistic and creative, and he loves to draw, but he had so much energy that he needed an outlet. He has played many sports, but when he joined wrestling, something in him was just different. He really enjoyed throwing people over his shoulder; he tells me it’s his favorite move. I’ve seen him become a very confident young man who believes in his strength, especially when he goes into “BEaSt Mode” on the mat.

Joaquin said, “Wrestling made me able to control my anger more and is the best thing that ever happened to me. At first I was like, ‘Ew, I don’t wanna wear those tight things and wrestle a guy,’ but then I put on a singlet and it felt cool. My favorite move is the arch throw.”

Shady, his older sister, was learning different moves prior to attending Salt River High School, because Joaquin would come home and teach her what he was learning. Shady transferred to SRHS and decided to join wrestling. She loved it just as much as Joaquin did, and she also became very good at it within her first year. She got home from practice one day and told me, “Mom, wrestling is life!” It made me super happy to see that she had found something she really loved.

Shady said, “Wrestling did change my mindset to where if I wanted something, then I had to try my hardest to get it; and when I got there, I congratulated myself. Wrestling was the best sport I tried out for. I doubted it at first, but I ended up getting really good at it and it felt good to finally love something and to keep myself busy. Wrestling season with Na Humma, Hoss, my brother and the rest of our wrestling family was amazing and the best time of my high school experience.”

Shady and Joaquin were to be in the state championships last year, but Shady ended up dislocating her elbow a week before and could not compete. It was really hard on her at first. She is still recovering but is determined to build her strength so she will be ready again for wrestling in the winter. Nothing will stop her; she is determined to be able to wrestle again this year.

At the Lori Piestewa National Native American Games, Joaquin was able to compete and got three gold medals for first place in Greco style, Folkstyle and Freestyle, and an award for Outstanding Male Wrestler. Not to brag, but I think my son was one of the most energetic and entertaining wrestlers I saw out there. I also enjoyed watching my many family members compete, especially the little ones: Oriana, Clayton, Hadley, Preston and Selby. I can’t wait to see how much better they become over time with the help of these coaches; I am sure they will be just as good as the older kids they look up to.

I just want to say thank you to the wrestling coaches at Salt River: Na Humma, Hosteen Smith and Dave Crebs. I have seen my kids become more confident and proud of their skills because they have great positive coaches who always do their best to inspire the kids to keep trying and not give up. My kids have had many coaches and many teachers, but the coaches they gained in wrestling have become like family, always encouraging them to stay out of trouble and do good in school as well. It has had only a positive impact in their lives, and I am very thankful for their support of all the kids they coach, no matter their size.

Being a graduate of Desert Eagle High School back in the day, I must say I have seen our Community grow as far as education, and especially sports and the advantages they offer at Salt River High School. We didn’t have many opportunities or inspiring teachers and coaches like we have today, and I hope that more young people get into something they enjoy, whether it be sports, poetry, art or dancing. It can only bring more positive [experiences] into your lives and help you out in the future to be a goal-setting and goal-achieving individual.

Shady Suniga tries to flip her opponent over on the mat. Pictured are Team Ba:ag wrestlers who won medals in wrestling during the Piestewa Games.

Wrestling Coach Shares His Thoughts

By Na Humma
SRHS Wrestling Coach

I’ve been truly blessed in my time here as the wrestling coach at Salt River High School, starting the Ba’ag Wrestling Club and becoming more involved with the Community. I am blessed to share my knowledge and passion in the sport of wrestling as a vehicle to allow young people to learn how to develop as both athletes and as people. I am fortunate to have a coaching staff that’s composed 75 percent of former SRHS wrestlers and to witness the rise of our first state placer in school history, Hosteen Smith, to become both head coach of the junior high wrestling team and vice president of Ba’ag Wrestling Club.

I’ve had great experiences with a variety of kids since I first came to Salt River as a volunteer assistant wrestling coach back in 2009, and it’s only been getting better every year with more kids joining wrestling and more staying with it.

Shady and Joaquin are definitely great examples of kids who have taken our message to heart and used wrestling as a way to help them work through their personal lives to improve their situations both on and off the mat.

Shady is very much a perfectionist who is all business when it comes to wrestling, but she has a genuine love of life and her teammates that helps her keep the team’s spirits high. She leads the charge in cheering on her teammates when they step up to the line.

Joaquin is very much a “class clown,” but he is the same person no matter the situation; he just loves to have fun. Even in our most difficult training, you can often find him with a joke on his lips and a smile on his face, because he enjoys getting better and developing his skills, which translates into being able to enjoy the culmination when he executes on the mat. Over time, I’ve seen the improvements of already-strong students in Joaquin and Shady as they use their opportunities in wrestling to motivate them to perform better in the classroom and break the barriers of what they think they are capable of in all aspects of their lives.

As we begin a season that will see the sendoff of student wrestlers who have dedicated the most time to our program as they prepare to enter their senior year at SRHS, we have a strong hope for the future of wrestlers who will follow the example they set and work hard to achieve their goals. I look forward to sharing that journey with the young people of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community for many years to come.