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Wrestling advocate Frank Popolizio to national hall of fame

Wrestling advocate Frank Popolizio to national hall of fame

Shenendehowa assistant coach started Journeymen
Wrestling advocate Frank Popolizio to national hall of fame
Journeymen owner Frank Popolizio is going to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Photographer: Daily Gazette file photo

Frank Popolizio saw a vision come to fruition when North Carolina State wrestled Oklahoma State in Naples, Italy, earlier this month.

"It was the first collegiate match outside of North America," said Popolizio, who organized the unique event. "We brought wrestling to a new place."

You can be certain Popolizio will have another new idea before long. The man who created Journeymen wrestling nearly 20 years ago and has been lending a helping hand even longer at area high schools is always thinking outside the box in an effort to further the sport and its participants.

For his vast array of grappling contributions at all amateur levels, the Niskayuna High School graduate has been named one of the 2018 Upstate New York Chapter honorees for the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

"Everyone in New York state knows Frank and what he does for wrestling," said Carl Koenig, President of the Upstate New York Chapter. "Him getting in, it was a cut and dried decision."

In a September ceremony in Syracuse  Popolizio will join his former Niskayuna coach, state career wins leader Joe Bena, who was inducted as a member of the hall of fame's upstate NY contingent in 2004. Like Bena did, Popolizio will receive the Lifetime Service Award.

"It's a tremendous honor, obviously," Popolizio said. "I almost feel reinvigorated. I feel like I have been inspired to go deeper, further, harder. Hopefully I can add to it."

Popolizio added a critical element to the growth of wrestling in the Capital Region and beyond in 1999 when he launched Journeymen Athletics. The organization concentrated on clinics and tournaments for both youngsters and those from the collegiate ranks.

"Our sport will never die because of a lack of wrestling people not knowing double legs and single legs," former Minnesota wrestling coach Jay Robinson had said of Popolizio. "It will die because of a lack of promotion, marketing and development. Frank does all of these things."

In 2004, Popolizio opened the Journeymen Wrestling Club. The idea, he said, was to enhance elementary school, middle school and high school wrestlers through camps, competitions, and in-house training sessions. Those sessions have taken place at Shenendehowa, Niskayuna, Schenectady and several other Section II hgh schools.

"I felt it was important to help wrestling. That's my calling," Popolizio said. "Joe Bena's philosophy was always to give back and help all, and I've followed that."

Bena steered Popolizio toward wrestling when he was in seventh grade.

"He [Bena] inspired me as a young guy," Popolizio, who graduated from Niskayuna in 1989, said. "He gave me confidence and changed me as an individual, and from that point I've been tied to it and compelled to stay with it."

While attending Hudson Valley Community College and serving as its student government president, Popolizio got the wrestling program reinstated there while at the same time volunteering as a Niskayuna assistant. While attending Springfield College afterward he served as a volunteer assistant at nearby Cathedral High School.

Popolizio returned to Niskayuna and assisted there from 1995-2003, and has been assisting at Shenendehowa since 2004. In 2009 the father of two boys was selected the National Wrestling Coaches Association's New York State  Assistant Coach of the Year.

"I really enjoy working with kids in the high school season," Popolizio, a Clifton Park resident, said. "You see so many gains. It's fun to be part of the process. The journey."

Popolizio takes pride that numerous Journeymen participants have gone on to compete in college. Many more are headed in that direction including Ballston Spa state champion Tyler Barnes (North Carolina State) and Scotia-Glenville's Hailey Finn (Life University).

"That's been one of our main goals, providing opportunities for education and wrestling," Popolizio said. "We hit that as hard as we can. We tell them, 'You've got to believe in the system, and you've got to work,' and a lot of them reach their potential. Our track record is exceptional as far as setting them up for the next step."

Popolizio's many connections led to the inception of the Journeymen Northeast Duals tournament 15 years ago. It is a college event held locally that started small yet has grown to feature top Division I teams from across the country.

"Frank has been relentless in his pursuit of excellence for his clubs, clinics, camps and tournaments," Bena had said. "His attention to details is evident in the results of his endeavors. He is a prolific promoter and organizer within the sport of wrestling."

Popolizio has brought in numerous standouts from the college ranks and beyond to work clinics, world class coaches and wrestlers such as John Smith, Dan Gable, Cael Sanderson, Jordan Burroughs, Tom and Terry Brands, Henry Cejudo and Journeymen graduate Nick Gwiazdowski.

"The magic lies in convincing them to come to Albany, Clifton Park," Popolizio said. "These guys have such busy schedules. How do you get them to say yes, that is the art of it."

John Smith is the head coach at Oklahoma State, and his Cowboys edged the North Carolina State team coached by Popolizio's younger brother, Pat, at the first-of-its-kind match in Italy earlier this month.

In each of the last two Aprils, Popolizio put on an international  Journeymen tournament that included scholastic athletes from several countries including Canada, Austria, Italy, and France.

"He is a visionary in many respects as far as wrestling is concerned," Koenig said. "He is looking to do a lot of great things."

The Upstate New York Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame induction ceremony is Sept. 23 at Double Tree Hotel in East Syracuse. Saratoga Springs attorney Patrick Greene, a longtime wrestling supporter and administrator, will receive the Outstanding American Award.

Greene was a successful wrestler at Cicero High School and Syracuse University. He is board member for the Upstate New York Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

In all, 10 Upstate New York Chapter individuals will be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Jim Schiltz at 518-395-3143, [email protected] or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.

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