Wrestlers and coaches came together at Woodstock High School to participate in a wrestling clinic honoring a fallen war veteran who loved the sport.
Before Major Doug Zembiec was serving his country as a U.S. Marine, he was an unstoppable force on the wrestling mat.
Zembiec graduated from La Cueva High School in Albuquerque, N.M. His junior year, he won a state championship and he repeated the feat his senior year, winning every match that year. He went on to wrestle while attending the United States Naval Academy with a record of 95-21-1 and finished as an NCAA All-American. He graduated from the academy in 1995.
Zembiec was awarded a Bronze Star for his efforts in a month-long fight in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. After being assigned a desk job, he volunteered to return to the frontlines. Zembiec was killed May 11, 2007, while leading a combat operation in Baghdad.
Jon Grell, a WHS dean and wrestling coach who is on a leave of absence while he serves on active duty, coordinated with Kurt Kyle, a 1991 WHS graduate, to bring the clinic to Woodstock. The clinic is held yearly and put on with the help of Zembiec’s classmates of 1995.
The clinic, held May 13 at James Shipley Gymnasium, was attended by about 85 wrestlers ranging from first- through 12th-graders. Several college-age wrestlers attended just for fun. About 20 coaches attended and, along with parents, were treated to a coaching clinic from Mike Clayton, head coach of USA Wrestling.
“Mike lives and breathes wrestling and the development of the sport in the United States, and he taught the coaches and wrestlers a great deal in a short amount of time,” Grell said.
Joel Sharratt, who led the instruction at the clinic, is the head Navy wrestling coach. Sharratt said his focus for the wrestlers in the clinic was deeper than just technique. Heavy focus was on work ethic, discipline and character. Zembiec’s classmates took turns speaking about his legacy as a wrestler and as a war hero. Randy Walsh, 1996 graduate of the Naval Academy, read the Silver Star Citation posthumously issued to Zembiec.
“It is all about remembering Zembiec, who was a close friend of mine. Ten years ago [May 11], he was killed working with the CIA. It’s a great opportunity to get this group of guys together and share a bit of Doug’s character with these guys. Let them see a hero, a role model. Wrestling applies itself very well to the world of combat. When you understand the tactics and strategies of the sport, you’re going to look at the world, and the world of conflict, through the lens of a wrestler. That’s something that Doug did extraordinarily well,” Sharratt said.
“It was an honor to host such tremendous coaches and wrestlers, all in the memory of a great Marine, great wrestler and great human being, Doug Zembiec,” Grell said.