A circle in the sand

A local man is pinning his success on the future of an emerging sport by hosting a national championship next weekend for beach wrestling, a sport recently sanctioned by the International Wrestling Federation.

Wrestlers will compete for three minutes inside a 20-foot circle drawn in the sand of Caroga's Pine Lake beach on Aug. 5, trying to pin their opponent or force them to retreat.

You would think that wrestling on sand would hurt a lot more than being pinned on a rubber mat in a gym, but wrestling promoter Tom Bergami is quick to dispel that notion.

Actually, it doesn't hurt, said Bergami, owner of Albany's TNT Northeast Wrestling. "My boys have been wrestling on the beach. The sand gives. And, throws aren't as important as forcing your opponent from the ring."

Bergami added that a recent rule change for freestyle wrestling takes a lot of the pain out of the sport.

"The one thing nice about pinning on the beach is it's quick," Bergami said. "There's no counting in freestyle wrestling. If your shoulders hit the sand, it's a pin."

What happens it if rains on the 5th? Bergami said with a laugh that spectators would see mud wrestling because the one-day tournament will go on, rain or shine.

"Our wrestlers are tough kids," Bergami said. "They're not worried about a little bit of rain. All they want to do is wrestle. If it rains, it'll be a dreary day but we're not worried about it."

Last year, a similar event at a New York City beach drew approximately 12,000 spectators to watch hundreds of wrestlers go at it. Bergami doesn't expect as big a turnout at the championship meet in sleepy Fulton County's hamlet of Caroga, but he is enthusiastic about the responses he has received and expects more wrestlers to register after the Empire State Games end.

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