May 15, 2016

Like Father, Like Wrestling Son – But Better

Reporting Texas

Austin Westlake’s Jack Skudlarczyk wrestling Timmy Thompson of Clear Creek High School in the 2016 State Finals match. Courtesy Ray Shoaf

Twenty-five minutes after winning his second Texas state wrestling championship in February, Jack Skudlarczyk sat in a lawn chair outside the recreational vehicle his family rented for the tournament. He had a bag of Lay’s in his lap, a cookie in his left hand and a Snickers in his right. He was smiling broadly.

His strict diet had been put on hold. It was the end of the high school season his junior year at Westlake High School and Skudlarczyk had won again.

Following the state championship win, Skudlarczyk (SKUD-lar-sik) not only had reached a new level of personal success, but now had posted a wrestling achievement greater than the person who helped him reach this point – his father.

By setting a new overall record of 109 wins and four losses in just three years, Jack passed the overall high school record of 108 wins and three losses his father Perry set in the mid-1980s when he wrestled at Brighton High School in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. It’s a surprising feat considering that Perry had never considered getting Jack into wrestling in the first place.

As a sixth grader, Skudlarczyk was a physical kid stuck in a magnet program at Kealing Middle School.

“I kind of enjoyed beating up on all of my friends and I was kind of good at it,” Skudlarczyk said.

Perry Skudlarczyk remembers seeing his son struggle. The father remembered his own struggle with wrestling, too.

Perry Skudlarczyk started wrestling when he was in elementary school. After his freshman year at Brighton High School, he attended a wrestling camp hosted by Dan Gable, the 1972 Olympic champion and head coach at the University of Iowa. The next year he wrestled on the varsity team for Brighton, a school known for its wrestling champions.

Perry wrestled one year at Weber State. An injury and the elimination of the wrestling program there left him unfulfilled with the sport.

“So I was done,” he said. “I was tired of wrestling.”

Perry initially had no interest in pushing his son into wrestling. But Jack wanted to give it a try.

“I wanted him to take initiative and find himself. When he came to me [about wrestling] I didn’t have hesitation, I just didn’t know I was going to get back into the sport and love it again,” Perry said.

Jack Skudlarczyk joined the Westlake youth program, beat his fellow seventh graders and won youth state. His parents quickly realized their son’s raw talent, and the happiness the sport brought him.

At an end-of-the-season celebration banquet his seventh grade year, Skudlarczyk’s parents made the decision to move from their home in Austin to Westlake.

“Our friends kept saying you’ve got to move to Westlake, you’ve got to move to Westlake,” Amy Skudlarczyk said. “I watched my kid that night [at the banquet] and he was as happy as I’ve ever seen him … I looked at Perry and said ‘We’re moving to Westlake’.”

Their move across the river took Skudlarczyk’s game to a new level. He joined Westlake Youth Wrestling Club and began practicing four hours a day. The hard work showed as soon as he began wrestling for Westlake.

His freshman year he posted a 43-2 record and won the state championship in the 106-pound weight class.

He won two all-American awards as a sophomore at the Cadet/Junior National Championship tournament in Fargo, North Dakota. Skudlarczyk wrestled in the 113-pound weight class and finished sixth in the country out of 39 wrestlers in Greco-Roman style and eighth in the country out of 44 wrestlers in free style. He got hurt later his sophomore season and had to undergo knee surgery, but still finished with a 25-1 overall record, placing third at the state championship.

Skudlarczyk finished his junior season with a state championship win and a record of 41-1. His one loss was to the defending state champion of Oklahoma.

Perry Skudlarczyk got to watch his son in the most recent state championship match – not only as a father, or a coach, but as a fan.

“I know there’s not a whole lot of time left for me to just watch him wrestle,” he said.

Pat O’Hara, the Westlake head wrestling coach of 14 years, has watched and coached Skudlarczyk since his freshman year at Westlake.

“He is unbelievably focused and driven,” O’Hara said. “One of the most I’ve ever coached in that regard. I mean he is just all wrestling all the time. I sometimes think almost too much, like I’d like to see him pull back a little, but that’s just how his motor goes.”

But Skudlarczyk doesn’t want to cut back; he wants to wrestle in college and maybe longer.

Getting recruited for college wrestling is difficult for a Texas athlete. Compared to areas of the U.S. such as the Midwest, for example, Texas wrestlers must travel not only to be seen, but also to find competition.

“Texas still isn’t quite on the level as states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and even Oklahoma,” O’Hara said, “but there is quite a bit of growth each year.”

Ray Shoaf, owner and photographer for WrestlingTexas, a website dedicated to promoting wrestlers from within the state of Texas on the national collegiate level, has followed Skudlarczyk throughout his wrestling career and believes he has what it takes to not only wrestle in college, but specifically for a Division 1 team.

“What separates Jack from a lot of the other wrestlers is that Jack works 24/7,” Shoaf said. “[I could see Jack wrestling] at a D-1 college…like a Virginia, Oklahoma, OSU. There is opportunity for our Texas wrestlers to get out to these colleges and I think Jack’s one of them.”

There are 298 wrestling teams in Class 5A and 6A, the biggest schools in Texas. Although the number continues to grow yearly, Skudlarczyk still travels to tournaments nationally in hopes of scoring a rare NCAA Division I wrestling scholarship.

According to the NCAA, there is an average of 32 wrestlers on each D-1 team with an average of 9.9 scholarships available each year.

It’s more common for college athletic departments to give a higher number of partial scholarships to wrestlers rather than full scholarships.

Wrestling for a D-1 college may seem difficult enough, but getting the opportunity to wrestle in college at all is a different story.

In 2015 there were 269,514 high school wrestlers in the United States. Of that number, only 6,982 made it onto one of the 130 NCAA wrestling teams.

These odds aren’t holding Skudlarczyk back.

“An NCAA championship is my main goal and I think after that if everything goes as planned, the Olympics follows,” Skudlarczyk said. “Really right now, an NCAA championship, I want to win one of those.”