Belle Vernon Area wrestlers know their shoes
Belle Vernon Area senior wrestler Adam Nickelson is not necessarily looking forward to another meeting with the referee who officiated a recent match. No, it's not that Nickelson, undefeated with a 15-0 record and the WPIAL's No. 1-ranked wrestler at 182 pounds, was displeased with how the man in the striped shirt called the match.
It's that Nickelson took an instant liking to the shoes the official was wearing.
“I walked over to him right after the match,” Nickelson said, chuckling, “and I offered to buy his Adidas Combat Speed shoes right on the spot. I offered him (x) dollars, and he took off his shoes right there and gave them to me. I got a really good deal.”
Only days after the match and acquisition, Nickelson turned a “nice profit” for a pair of Olympic Footsweeps wrestling shoes, which he found on ebay “for a good deal,” and the Combat Speeds he bought from the referee After a slight pause, Nickelson, chuckling further, added, “He really didn't know what he had.”
Nickelson's purchase was not that unusual, for him. He and teammate and fellow senior Nate Russo collect wrestling shoes, buying and selling via websites eBay and Slickr, or, as Nickelson did, on the spot.
They store their, ahem, collector's items, on shelves in their bedrooms and both profess to not using but air fresheners. But neither is denying possible future use of said sweeteners.
“I like shoes and I'm a big Michael Jordan fan,” Nickelson said, “I have his street-basketball shoes and one day I went on line and was looking for wrestling shoes, found Slickr, and told Nate about it.”
Additionally, Nickelson, who has nearly two dozen shoes in his collection, has either purchased from or sold shoes to fellow wrestlers at tournaments; He holds down a summer job installing above-ground pools, from which he saves money for his shoe collection.
When Nickelson first began collecting and selling, his parents, Scott and Gayle, were not that excited about his new hobby, he said.
“At first they said, ‘What are you doing with these shoes?' but once they saw me make a profit, they have been OK with it,” he said, laughing.
Thanks to Nickelson, Russo entered the world of collecting wrestling shoes in the summer prior to his sophomore year in high school, keeping his dozen shoes on a special shelf in his room.
“Adam had just started buying and selling and trading and told me about Slickr,” Russo said, adding that they have expanded their collecting to include wrestling outfits and uniforms. “There's a ton of kids on that site who do the same thing we do. I've seen some neat shoes at tournaments and offered wrestlers money for their shoes.”
Russo works as a bus boy at area banquets and makes an offer when shoes catch his attention. His favorite shoes were a pair of 2008 Olympic Inflicts, made for American and Japanese Olympian athletes.
“I liked the shoes, but I could not resist an offer on the website,” he said, adding that another favorite pair of new 1995 shoes is still in its original box.
Besides collecting, buying and selling the shoes, Russo wears the shoes in matches. He saves one pair, Blue Kolats designed by Olympic wrestler Cary Kolat, for tournament finals matches.
Russo added that his parents, Shawn and Jamie, “know I enjoy doing this so they don't mind. They don't want me to spend as much as I do, but once I sell them they're OK with it.”
Nickelson followed in the footsteps of his father, Scott, who wrestled at Connellsville Area High School, but admitted his wrestling career got off to a rough start.
“I hated it when I was in kindergarten and cried every time I had to go,” he recalls, “but when I was in fourth grade my bicycle was stolen and my dad made a deal with me. He would get me a new bike if I wrestled. I still have that bike, and wrestling has also worked out well.”
Belle Vernon wrestling coach Jack Jolley described Nickelson as “solid and an impact wrestler as a freshman. He has a strong work ethic and comes to work every day. Besides his obvious skills, his knowledge of the sport is another advantage. He is a pinner and lets the match come to him. Adam varies his style, depending on his opponent and what he needs to do at the time. He has become stronger each year and does everything right in the off-season to get ready for the season.”
Wrestling at 171 for three seasons, Nickelson, with morte than 115 career wins, was section runner-up as a freshman and sophomore, before copping the section title as a junior, when he was runner-up in the WPIAL championship match. Qualifying for the Pennsylvania state tournament, he finished eighth. Competing at 182 this season, Nickelson captured the top spot at the recent Eastern Area Invitational at Gateway High School.
Nickelson wore the Footsweeps once last season, in the WPIAL finals, and wears others in different matches.
“We bring about three pair to each tournament and we change them for different matches,” he added.
Like Nickelson, Russo, who followed his older brother, Zack, to the sport, has been stellar since he first stepped on Belle Vernon's mats, and is ranked third in the WPIAL at 126, with 13 wins compared to two setbacks. His 110-plus wins include a section and Westmoreland County Coaches Tournament title and a fourth-place showing in the WPIAL as a sophomore (at 103). As a junior at 113 he took honors at the West Mifflin Tournament, and had second-, third-, and fourth-place finishes in the section, county, and WPIAL tournaments, respectively. This season, at 126, Russo took the top spot at the Gateway Invitational.
“Nate's maneuverability and quickness are keys to his success,” Jolley noted, “and his technique is flawless. He used a strong offseason wrestling program to improve for this year. When he relaxes on the mat, he is hard to beat. He just has to go out and wrestle.”
Coaching both wrestlers for four seasons, Jolley laughs when recalling their business acumen.
“It is definitely interesting hearing them talk about their shoes, and they know what they are talking about,” Jolley said. “It's fun to listen to them and see them buy and trade and haggle over shoes and prices, especially at matches.”
While Russo, who carries a 3.0 grade average, limits his focus to wrestling, and his shoes, Nickelson maintains a 3.8 grade average and is a member of the National Honor Society and senior class president.
Hinting at his wrestling success, Nickelson, with a hearty laugh, said, “No one messes with the president of the class. They know better!”
Les Harvath is a freelance writer.