In the end, raising the funds to get to Croatia might have been just as challenging as making the Greco-Roman Cadet World Team for Nebraska brothers Jakason and James Burks.
The Cadet World Championships begin early Monday morning in Zagreb, Croatia. The tournament will be streamed live and available on demand on Trackwrestling.com.
For the Burks brothers, the four-week sprint to get prepared for their first World-level tournament has been intertwined with a crash course in fundraising and preparation for global travel.
James Burks had never been further from his Omaha home than he was in early June when he won the Cadet World Team Trials in Akron. He’s never flown.
“I’m a little nervous,” he said. “I’ve never been on a plane and I’ve never been across seas. It’ll be new to me. Hopefully I can come out out with a medal or even the championship.”
Jakason hopped on a flight once to North Carolina, but the trip overseas will be a first for him, too.
It’s a first, too, for the United States, which hasn’t had a brother tandem on the same Cadet World Team since the tournament resumed in 2011 after a 12-year break.
“It’s cool to have him with me,” said Jakason, who likes to trade good-natured barbs with his older brother as each tries to top the other’s accolades.
Jakason likes to point out he has the bigger resume on the national level. James will toss it back with mention of his three Nebraska state titles.
“I’ll start to let him win,” Jakason said. “I’ll be the bigger person in the argument.”
Now both can boast World Team bids.
James, who will wrestle next week at 71 kilograms, will be a senior in the fall at Omaha Burke High School, where he set a school record last year with 1,934 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns.
“He’s big and strong and he’s capable of doing a ton,” said Zac Dominguez, who coaches the Burks brothers at MWC Wrestling Academy in Omaha. “He’s an unbelievable talented athlete. Harnessing him in and honing him was probably the difficult part because he already had all that (athleticism). Once he understood what we wanted it was easy to get him going.”
Jakason rallied back from a 7-0 deficit in the second period of the decisive third match to beat Washington’s Aizayah Yacapin in the 51-kilogram final series in Akron.
“Jakasin’s more of a thinker,” Dominguez said. “He’s a great athlete, but he loves working on his technique and he finally started defining what he likes to do as a wrestler. … He truly, truly loves par terre — pick ‘em up, throw ‘em, gut wrench ‘em — he understands the simplicities of Greco sometimes, the overall strategies. For him, that’s where he’s super-talented. Of course, he’s an athlete, too, and that helps, but he’s figured it out quite a bit.”
The Burks brothers have figured out this fundraising business, too. In their quest to raise $8,000 to cover their travel costs and help get personal coach Matt Rein to Croatia as well, the brothers peddled T-shirts and worked at night as servers at Rein’s pizza joint. They had another fundraiser in which Georgi Ivanov, a 2016 Olympian for Bulgaria, put on a clinic with proceeds going to the Burks brothers travel fund.
“Basically, they’ve become door-to-door salesmen,” Dominguez said. “They’ve gotten really good at it. They’re humble young men and they ask nicely, the produce, they show up when they’re supposed to for things like that.”
Abe Assad made an instant impression on Israel Martinez last spring when he was the last wrestler to leave practice on his first night training at Izzy Style.
“You could tell he was there for the right reasons,” Martinez said. “He’s not just there saying he wants to make a change to his career or what he’s doing, he’s actually living to those standards. It’s not often you hear a guy say, ‘This is what I want to do,’ and then watch him work and do it.”
In the 16 months since, Martinez has watched Assad make “night and day” improvement with his handfighting, “leaps and bounds” growth with his positioning on leg attacks and his belief in his skills has mushroomed, too.
Assad’s progress manifested itself in Akron when he swept the 80-kilogram titles in both styles at the Cadet World Team Trials. It put Assad in the same situation as the one Izzy Style training partner Will Lewan faced last year.
Ultimately, Lewan opted to gear his focus toward freestyle and he won a Cadet World title last September in Greece.
Assad will try to do the same.
“We think our best shot to get a gold is to focus on freestyle,” Martinez said. “The other thing, too, Abe didn’t want to take it from someone else.”
Idaho’s Jonathon Fagan will take Assad’s place on the Greco-Roman team.
Daniel Kerkvliet is bidding to win his second Cadet World title and maintain Minnesota’s lock on the Cadet World heavyweight gold. Minnesota native Gable Steveson won Cadet World golds at heavyweight in 2015 and 2016. … Kerkvliet is one of three past medalists on the American roster this week. Emily Shilson, another Minnesotan, claimed a silver last year in Greece. Wisconsin’s Macey Kilty bagged a bronze in 2016.
(Photo: Jakason Burks, left, and James Burks are set to become the first brother tandem to represent the United States at the Cadet World Championships since the tournament resumed in 2011/photo courtesy of the Burks brothers)
Courtesy of Teamusa.org