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By Sandy Stevens
Photo: Jason Wolk (center) spoke to teammates of the Majory Stoneman Douglas High School team prior to the team’s district tournament last February. This was shortly after a memorial for their coach Chris Hixon, who was among 17 killed in a shooting at the Florida high school.
(This column appeared in the Sept. 18, 2018 issue of Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine. The next issue will be mailed after the Oct. 20-28 UWW World Championships. To subscribe to WIN, go to WIN-Magazine.com or call 888-305-0606.)
As a varsity co-captain this past season, sophomore Jason Wolk took on his toughest assignment: helping his teammates wrestle with tragedy.
Jason and his fellow wrestlers were students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where on Feb. 14, a former student killed 17 students and staff members.
Among those killed was Chris Hixon, the Eagles’ head wrestling coach and athletic director. Hixon, who had wrestled in high school in Easton, Penn., was said to be a man so dedicated to his students that when coaching vacancies forced him to consider discontinuation of some sports, he coached them himself.
Also killed were Jason’s cross-country coach, Scott Biegel, and assistant football coach Aaron Feis — who also drove the bus transporting wrestlers to their meets.
Jason was one of the athletes interviewed by ESPN, when breaking tradition, they posthumously awarded the 2018 ESPY for Outstanding Coach to those three men who died shielding their students from gunfire.
The shootings happened on a Wednesday, just two days before the wrestlers’ scheduled district competition.
“It really makes you see how fast things can change,” Jason said. “It makes you never take anything for granted. Earlier that day I sat in a classroom in front of a door that was (later) shot up.
“One day people a few miles away hadn’t heard of us; the next day there are 10 news trucks in front of the school. Immediately after the trauma, we went straight into the post-season, and everybody was watching us.”
As co-captain, Jason strove to help his teammates as they struggled with the catastrophe and its aftermath.
The district competition was postponed to the following Wednesday, but the school was closed to students. Two-time NCAA champion and Olympian Steve Mocco offered his Mocco Wrestling Academy gym in nearby Coconut Creek to Douglas team members for as long as they needed.
“The next day we had optional practice,” Jason said. “It was very open because everyone was in a different place, but a lot of the team showed up for practice.”
Then they discovered that Coach Hixon’s funeral had been scheduled for the same day as the postponed Districts.
“They said that any of us who felt up to it could weigh in early, change into dress clothes, go to the funeral and change into singlets to wrestle in the Districts,” Jason said.
“I really found comfort in the wrestling,” he said. “It was like ‘we’ll go into business mode now’ — we had goals; ‘after State, we’ll let out our grief.’
“The team had the best showing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Coach had set an expectation of top three, and we beat out some state-ranked teams to place second.”
Nine of 14 squad members, including Jason, qualified for the Regionals held just two days later. He was one of two to qualify for state and finished his 106-pound sophomore season 38-3, with his only losses to state placers.
Jason is also a member of the math team, as well as his school’s Empower the People movement, a nonpartisan, student-led movement to increase youth awareness and engagement in government and society.
“It branched off from the March for Our Lives, but it’s entirely nonpartisan,” he stressed. “Everybody should be registered to vote.”
Now 16, Jason’s upcoming year will be his seventh on the mats.
“When I was in fourth grade, we turned on the TV and the first match I ever watched was Kyle Dake winning his fourth title,” he recalled. “Then we spent weeks looking for a kids’ club.”
The son of Evan and Lori Wolk, Jason trains at the Mocco Academy and at SWAT (Sheldon Wrestling Academy), and he was a member of the Florida Cadet team this summer in Fargo.
From the beginning, Jason said, he has competed in both freestyle and Greco-Roman.
“I always liked Greco,” he said. “It’s fun for me to do, and it plays into my style. I feel very comfortable in the situations Greco-Roman puts me in.”
But one of his most important triumphs came in late January, capturing the title in the Broward County Tournament, a victory his coach had celebrated.
“At Coach Hixon’s viewing, I took the gold medal I got and gave it to his wife,” Jason said, “Because that was the most important to him.”