By Sean P. Ray | Managing Editor
The Pittsburgh wrestling scene saw an invasion from the Northside this season, one which has proven very successful in its inaugural year.
The Northside Invader Youth Wrestling Team is a newly formed wrestling program which began just after Thanksgiving and will finish its season in March.
The Invaders are headed up by Audie Chapman, who serves as head coach. The team was formed under the Northside Youth Athletic Association, of which Chapman is the executive director.
Chapman is a former wrestler himself, having competed while attending Perry Traditional Academy, and even managed to become a hall of famer for the city league.
“My passion is wrestling,” Chapman said.
Chapman formerly coached wrestling for a few seasons at the Pittsburgh Project, a youth service program on the Northside. However, the wrestling program was put on hold due the COVID-19 pandemic.
Desiring to resurrect the program now that pandemic restrictions are lessened, Chapman reached out to many of the kids he formerly coached and found a lot of them were also eager to get back into wrestling.
While not formally associated with any school, the team takes their name for the mascot of Allegheny Middle School, which is also where they practice. The team is for kids in middle school, and competes in the North Hills Youth Wrestling Road Warriors League, where they’ve established an impressive record in their first year.
“Right now we have three novices — which means first-year wrestlers — ranked in the top 25 best wrestlers in our league,” Chapman said.
Those three wrestlers are Deontay Kendrick (ranked ninth), Amari Coffee (ranked 16th) and Daveon “DJ” Collier (ranked 23rd).
The program began with 33 wrestlers, with 18 of those kids sticking through to the end of the season. Chapman hopes that the team’s success will help get the word out and bring in more support for the team, as he currently has been funding the Invaders out of his own pocket.
“It was kind of rough getting it off the ground,” Chapman said.
Despite the expense, the investment seems to have been worth it. Chapman said the young athletes were very responsive to training. Seeing those kids improve is what he most enjoys about coaching.
“The kids start out losing and then find a way to win, getting better as the weeks go on,” he said. “That makes my heart smile. That makes it seem like all the hard work and effort and days or practice, they’re paying off.”
At least one student agrees with Chapman’s sentiments. Collier spoke with The Chronicle about the season and getting ranked among the top 25 wrestlers in the league.
“It feels good accomplishing it,” Collier said of the ranking. “I’m trying to work hard to beat everyone.”
Collier called Chapman a “very good wrestling coach,” and found the program very welcoming.
“He inspires me to be greater,” Collier said of Chapman.
Chapman plans to continue the program next season, and hopes to see strong growth for the Invaders moving forward.
“I would like to have a packed gym, to where we outgrow the gym and have to find a bigger space,” he said.
He also thanked several people who have supported the Invaders in their first season, including Mayor Ed Gainey, Diana Bucco of the Buhl Foundation, Councilman Bobby Wilson, Jamie Younger of Younger’s Bar and Sabrina Mosby of Vibrant Pittsburgh.
The team will finish out their season with a match night on March 2, at 6:30 p.m., at Allegheny Middle School. The Invaders will face the Westinghouse Youth Wrestling team. Admission is $5 for parents, $3 for students, and the money will help fund the Invaders.
The team will hold enrollment for its next season just before Thanksgiving 2023. More information will be announced through the Northside Youth Athletic Association Facebook page closer to the signup period.