By STEVE KRAUSE
LYNN — Victor Morales stepped off the mat after pinning his opponent during Thursday’s exhibition wrestling match with a member of the Boston Youth Wrestling Program to the sounds of gleeful applause from the crowd at Marshall Middle School, and exuberant palm slaps and hugs from his teammates.
Morales, at that moment, was a barometer of how far the Lynn middle school wrestling program has come since Frank Vieiraand his daughter, Samantha Nelson, began teaching the sport to the Lynn middle school students in January.
An equally exuberant Morales ran to the far end of the spacious gym at the new middle school to high-five his parents and friends. It was a moment to celebrate, Vieira said.
“This was our first match ever,” he said, “and the kids were extremely nervous. Afterward, they were on Cloud 9, especially when we started getting some wins.
“They were so afraid to get out there,” he said, “and then it was like, ‘hey, we want to do it again.’ I’m thrilled for them, to see how hard they’ve worked, to see them pull out some wins.”
In all, six Lynn kids won, four on pins: Morales, whose opponent had been undefeated in regular-season play; Jose Lagares, who got his pin in 15 seconds; Zari Amaro and Sidney Cocchia. Other victories came from Francisco Bortillo, who won 7-2 on points; and Robert Delangis, 11-7.
The program germinated in the mind of Lynn School Committeeman Jared Nicholson last year. Nicholson, a state champion wrestler at Lincoln-Sudbury while he was in high school, later wrestled at Princeton. Thursday, Nicholson, an attorney for Northeast Legal Aid, was all over the gym, exhorting the students and encouraging them all evening.
“A lot of people have worked hard to make this happen,” said Nicholson. “This is a great outlet for kids, and a positive experience.
“It’s also great for a city like Lynn,” he said. “It doesn’t cost a lot. You don’t need a lot of space for it, and it’s a great compliment to other sports.”
The city is also ambitious about the sport going forward. Lynn Tech athletic director Joe Skeadas, on hand to watch Thursday’s match, is already talking about combining his school with Classical and English to make wrestling a regular varsity sport come December.
“It’ll be a mixed-gender program,” he said, which is undoubtedly a relief to the Lynn wrestlers, several of whom are girls. “We would be hosting it, and we’d compete in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference (which is Tech’s home league).”
The goal, says Nelson, is to expand the program at both the middle and high school levels.
“I hope it catches on and grows,” she said. “I’ve already had a lot of kids tell me they want to do this next year. This year, it was new to a lot of kids.”
Nelson credits Nicholson for the work he did getting the program off the ground.
“He got sponsors and donations, and without him, there wouldn’t be program,” she said.
Marshall principal Molly Cohen, also in attendance, watched a match involving student Arianna Cardanca, and marveled at how quick the wrestlers had to be, both with their feet and with their minds.
“Wrestling is an excellent example of moment-to-moment decision-making,” she said. “It’s one of the many ways sports can benefit students.”