By Lance Cpl. Luke Kuennen, Marine Corps Base Hawaii
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, HI -- The passion many Marines have for combative sports like wrestling is easily explained. They require the fostering of traits like resiliency, discipline, and commitment, tenets that all Marines strive to improve in their careers. One retired master gunnery sergeant is making it his priority to share his knowledge and make the sport available to youth at Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH).
“I’ve been wrestling since I was about six years old,” said Gus Alexander. “I wrestled up until high school. I still love it, and I told myself that I’d find a way to coach the sport since I love it so much, and that’s what I’m doing here now.”
In addition to coaching the team, Alexander now works as an equal opportunity representative at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
The youth wrestling program is organized through Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS). It arranges practices three nights through the work week at the base youth center, while scheduling tournaments across Oahu in conjunction with the Police Activities League (PAL), as well as USA Wrestling. The tournaments are open to wrestlers across the island, regardless of any affiliation with the military or police force.
Currently, the program is teaching folkstyle wrestling techniques. Folkstyle wrestling is the most common style of the sport to be practiced at the high school and collegiate level across the United States.
“Folkstyle is growing here,” Alexander said on its presence in Hawaii. “I think it’s still a little young, but the parents are educated on the sport, the coaches are passionate, and it just keeps continuing to grow.”
Alexander is assisted by wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu enthusiast Chief Warrant Officer 3 Sergio Esquivel of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 24.
When Esquivel heard he would be stationed on MCBH, he sought out Gus to continue giving back to the sport. His two sons and his daughter are all wrestlers in the program.
“Working with Gus is remarkable, said Esquivel. “He’s extremely experienced, and he does a great job managing the kids and teaching them a lot of life skills.”
Alexander and Esquivel lead the team with the help of several volunteer coaches, many of them parents of the wrestlers.
Many parents, like Amanda Hulett, enjoy watching the practices and the interactions between the wrestlers and the coaches.
“Gus and Sergio are great,” said Hulett. “They’re both really good with the kids. All of the volunteers are awesome, too. They’re very involved, and the kids really look up to them.”
Hulett appreciates the opportunity for her son to share her own passion for wrestling.
“I wrestled in high school, and that’s where I learned about the camaraderie and team mentality of the sport- even though it’s very individual at the same time,” said Hulett. “This is the only sport where your hard work earns yourself all of the glory.”
Ultimately, Alexander hopes to impress the broader life lessons of the sport on his wrestlers.
“I hope the kids grow,” Alexander said. “Not just physically, but also mentally. I want them to develop that perseverance and that tenacity to motivate them to keep going even though they’re tired. Wrestling teaches so many life skills; it’s about overcoming that fear, overcoming your opponent, and overcoming yourself.”