Rick’s Sports Corner: Jon O’Brien, Burbank Wrestling Coach Optimistic

It's clear sailing for the newly founded Bulldogs wrestling teams.

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By Rick Assad

Burbank Chamber

Wrestling is one of the oldest and purest forms of athletics and is now a sport at Burbank High under the watchful eye of Jon O’Brien.

“The wrestling program wasn’t started by a teacher or an administrator. It was spearheaded by a group of students that didn’t feel they had a sport or club on campus that represented their interest in individual combat sports,” he said. “A student led petition circulated last year eventually snowballed into the Burbank Unified School District formally recognizing boys and girls varsity wrestling at Burbank High School in June of 2022.”

O’Brien thinks the team is going to be a huge success.

“When a sport is created by student-led efforts paired with strong support from school administration, that’s a strong recipe for success,” he said. “That is exactly what we have at Burbank.”

In some sports there are some physical assets that allow the individual to prosper.

Burbank High boys’ and girls’ wrestlers exhibiting their prowess. (Photo courtesy Jon O’Brien)

For instance, in football, it helps to be strong, while in basketball, it’s better to be tall.

In wrestling there isn’t a specific physical type that will make you better.

“The best part about wrestling is that it’s a sport that anyone can do, but not a sport for everyone,” O’Brien said. “So, whether you’re a boy or girl, tall or short, lanky or stocky, fast or slow – there is a place for you in the world of wrestling. However, given its strenuous nature – it’s not something that everyone can make it through. With wrestling, you get a strong sense of individualism, grit, and pride that sets you aside from the average campus sport.”

Wrestling is good for those who might feel left out of the loop according to O’Brien.

“Wrestling allows student-athletes that wouldn’t normally fit into another team sport, having their own individual success in wrestling,” he said.

O’Brien said physical strength is important, but it’s not the only asset a wrestler needs to possess.

“While strength and speed certainly don’t hurt, wrestling is a technician’s game,” he said. “We are going to pride ourselves in being the best technicians we can, the results will follow.”

Wrestling teaches those participants more than just winning and losing.

“The ability to find your own mental and physical limits, and consistently find ways to break past them,” O’Brien said of its benefits.

Getting the mat to practice and use during the matches was made possible by a nonprofit.

Wrestling isn’t easy, but it offers learning lessons on a daily basis. (Photo courtesy Jon O’Brien)

“Thanks to a generous donation of a wrestling mat from Beat the Streets LA – a 501c3 non-profit that empowers youth through the sport of wrestling – we have a 40×40 mat to practice on,” O’Brien noted. “But that means only a limited amount of space for a team with 50-plus kids. So, coordinating practices while being mindful of spacing concerns will be a challenge – but it’s a good problem to have for now.”

Part of that team includes girls, and they are just as excited to be on the squad as the boys.

“Girls wrestling is one of the fastest growing high school and collegiate sports in the country, with programs and opportunities growing by the day,” O’Brien said. “Here at Burbank, we started with only four girls, and now we’re at nine. We take a lot of pride in ensuring our girl wrestlers will have the same number of duals, tournaments, and competitions as the boys during the year.”

There are check points that Bulldog wrestlers must adhere to.

“We have five pillars that serve as a guide for our student-athletes. As a Burbank wrestler, you are expected to be 1) on time 2) be an effective communicator 3) respectful 4) tough 5) and held to a high standard (athletically, academically, character),” O’Brien said. “We cannot promise that every wrestler will be a state medalist, but what we can promise is that if you come through the Burbank wrestling program, you will be a better person for it.”

O’Brien is a forward looking individual when it comes to wrestling and sees a bright future for the teams.

“We aren’t concerned with why there hasn’t been wrestling at Burbank in the past” he said. “What we have brewing in the present is special, so we are focused on building on it and preparing for a bright future ahead.”