WHEELING - The Wheeling Jesuit University wrestling team began practice for its inaugural season last Thursday.
However, the overall impact of the Cardinals' program has been felt for a few months throughout the greater Wheeling area.
Along with developing a top-shelf program on the mat, head coach Sean Doyle also wants to mold top-shelf individuals in the classroom, on campus and in the community.
THE WHEELING Jesuit wrestling team has been taking part in multiple community service projects this fall. Pictured are the Cardinals who took part in the heart walk last month. Front row, from left, are Brad Kakos, Damon Outward, Jared Leasure, Austin Short, TJ Smith and Scott Lopez. Second row, from left, are Corey Siegfried, Sawyer Leppla, Kale Rayner, Kyle Harris, Jordan Orme, Maxwell Lacey, Skyler Terrell, Josh Henderson, Nate Hupp, Jonathan Barrett, Jacob Haynes, Dominick Nania and Coach Sean Doyle.
One of the main ways he's been doing that is through volunteer work in the community, which has involved numerous different causes.
"The guys have really enjoyed this," Doyle said. "A lot of the times I think kids look at service and think, 'I don't want to do something for free.' But, it's not for free. When they go do it, get the reward and see people smile, be appreciative and enjoy them being there isn't for free. They're becoming a much better person."
Some of the causes the Cardinals have helped include the regatta that was held in downtown Wheeling, the Heart Walk, the Alzheimer's Walk. They've also helped at numerous events on campus and recently four wrestlers offered their services to help an older couple move furniture.
"We don't look at this as if we're going to do a job," said Cardinals' frosh Dominick Nania. "We're benefitting as much as the people we're helping. We enjoy this because if we weren't at some of these events there'd be no one there to work it, set it up, tear it down. It's been a lot of fun and you can tell by how many guys show up."
Once Doyle had finalized his roster, he and his wrestlers went on a team bonding trip and each day they'd map out different things about the program. One of those was community service.
"We wanted to be very actively involved in the community," Doyle said. "The majority of our guys are from outside of the Ohio Valley, so this gives them a chance to get to know people here and helps us build a support system in our area. Plus, they're giving back and gaining an appreciation for what it means to do community service."
Frosh Bradley Kakos, who is from Columbus, took the idea of volunteering to a different level. He took part in a two-day excursion to Washington D.C. where he lived as a homeless person.
"We were on the streets for 48 hours and we had to figure out what to do with our time," Kakos said. "We had to panhandle and we did that for a solid two hours and we really got a feel for what people go through. We got the feeling of how it feels to beg someone for a handout or to get the stares from people who can't comprehend why you're there or what you're doing. There are a lot of misconceptions about the homeless and I feel fortunate to be able to learn and see better what they deal with. It was an eye-opening experience."
It's gotten to the point where Doyle hasn't had to seek out groups to help, but the groups are coming to them wondering if any of the wrestlers would be able to help.
In his office inside the McDonough Center, Doyle has several sign-up sheets of different service opportunities, so each athlete has a chance to do something that he feels he'd be able to help best at.
Each Cardinals' wrestler is required to do between six and eight hours a month of service, which Doyle said no one had an issue in completing.
"We had guys go well above that goal," Doyle said. "In their personal journals, each guy has to document their hours and list who their supervisor was."
As the season gets under way and the matches get closer, Doyle plans on cutting back the service "a few hours, but doesn't want to lose sight of it."
"I think it's like everything in your life to the point that if you have goals in mind, they have to remain in front of you at all times," Doyle said. "If you start cutting back, it becomes a less of a priority to them."
On top of helping the public, it's also served as a bonding experience for the 27-man roster, which is made up basically of all freshmen.
"We're all pushing each other in workouts and then when we volunteer later in the day, we're all together in a trench digging our way out," said Anthony Smith. "It's not just one individual person here. It's one team, one school and one community."
During the season, some of the Cardinals will help with are youth wrestling programs as one of their service projects.
Overall, the idea has gone better than Doyle ever imagined.
"I had a vision of what we were going to do, but to see the guys interact with each other, hear them talk about this and I get letters from the people who run the events commenting on our guys saying they feel like it's their responsibility to give back," Doyle said. "I just think, as we build as a program, this is your foundation. Their ultimate successes are preparing themselves for what lies ahead."
The Cardinals begin their inaugural season on Nov. 8 at the McDonough Center. They're utilizing that event to aid the Augusta Levy Learning Center through a paper drive.
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