The Mustangs have 35 wrestlers on their varsity roster, and 24 have parents whose nationalities cover all walks of life from around the world.
It’s a unique situation for one team to have so much diversity among its ranks, but it’s this grouping of cultures that has helped shape Kennesaw Mountain into such a strong team.
“As a school, Kennesaw Mountain is diverse, but not as it would imply with the guys on my team,” coach Roberto Rivera said. “I talk to all of the kids at the beginning of the school year to get involved in our program, and this is the group that came out.
“I just want the kids to get involved in something that might better them as men down the road, and these are the kids who took that challenge.”
Rivera, a Spanish teacher, adds to the diversity in his wrestling room. He is Puerto Rican, and his son, Justan, is one of the many different nationalities represented on the program.
Other nationalities on the team include Japan, South Korea, Spain, Vietnam, Mexico, Australia, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Finland, India, Brazil, Haiti, the Philippines and Zimbabwe.
“It’s a pretty unique situation, I think,” Roberto Rivera said. “They all bring something to the table. They learn from each other. They ask questions. In a normal classroom, you don’t see this type of diversity. But our group is like a small family of different cultures coming together for common goals.
“We have an exchange student from Finland who came out for the team and has blended right in. He’s shared with us information about his home and things that are different there and over here, and it’s just worked out well for us.”
It’s created a melting pot of cultures for Rivera’s wrestlers.
“Our Zimbabwe kid has only been in our country for about a year-and-a-half,” the coach said. “We’re talking first- and second-generation kids that were either born here after their parents immigrated, or are here now from other countries with their parents or legal guardians. These kids still follow the cultures of some of their families.”
Whether they’re new to the country, or have been here for a while, Rivera hasn’t hesitated in putting his diverse group to work on the mats if they have talent.
“Out of my starting varsity lineup, I think only three of my guys are either white or African-American,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us to share this sport with kids who are not accustomed to it. For most of them, soccer is the sport they know the most about, but they’ve decided to come out and experience something different that could give them opportunities later on. That’s what it’s all about, helping the kids.”
The backgrounds of Kennesaw Mountain’s wrestlers all tell a different story. Ultimately, though, they share a common bond.
“Anybody with an affiliation to a country has to understand where they’re from to learn where they’re going,” Rivera said. “But these guys are also proud to be in America and to be Americans.”