By Travis Smola
Wrestling is typically a sport with a learning curve. You wouldn’t know that from watching Hungarian exchange student Andras Antal with Vicksburg’s wrestling team.
Antal, who calls the Transylvania region of Romania home, is a 16-year-old, 270-pound sophomore. He’s managed to rack up an impressive 24-16 record this year, defeating several state ranked heavyweights. Prior to coming to America, he had never wrestled before. “I was not expecting these kinds of wins and development,” Antal said. Even though he’s never wrestled before, he credits four years of judo with helping to lay the groundwork for his entry into the heavyweight division of wrestling. “That gave me a little bit of the basics,” Antal said.
It didn’t come easily. Antal experienced some difficulties early on, losing some of his first matches. “We learn from every match,” Antal said. “I got better every day.” Antal said after the second month, the wins started to roll in. He had a big second place finish at West Catholic High School in Grand Rapids and won a tournament at Kalamazoo Central. “It’s just been a joy to watch the progress of a kid who has never wrestled before,” said head coach Doug Fuller. “He’s had a tremendous year for having never wrestled.”
Fuller said Antal’s first match provided some confusion for his opponent, as Antal was still thinking in a judo style rather than a wrestling mode. Even though he lost that first match, he’s since redeemed himself with a victory over that opponent.
“He’s picked up this sport quite well,” said Tim Pratt, Vicksburg’s Heavyweight specialist coach. “He’s a great addition to the team and has helped us out in a few tight spots.” Pratt said Antal has wrestled many more experienced wrestlers. He said it usually takes years of experience to get to the level where Antal is. “He just came out of the blue and picked it up,” Pratt said. “He’s tough as nails.”
It’s not just his wrestling skills the coaches appreciate. “He’s a great kid; very funny, a hard worker,” Fuller said. Antal’s house mother, Tama Kline, echoed this thought. “Andy’s foremost characteristic is his friendliness,” Kline said. “He has some really positive characteristics that make him fun to be around.”
Antal is the fifth exchange student she and her husband Phil Kline have housed over the years. Even though there is no blood relation between the two, she beams over Antal like any parent would. “I’m very proud of the effort he puts in and his good sportsmanship,” Kline said. “It’s been a good fit; I can’t believe the year is almost over already.”
Antal will leave in June when the school year ends. He played tennis at the start of the year and has plans to join the track team in the spring. It’s all a part of the cultural experience of being in America for Antal. “I love to try a lot of sports,” Antal said.
Going to school in America has been a bit of an adjustment, but Antal believes he has made the most of it. He said one of the biggest differences is moving around the school to get to different classes. In Europe, students stay in one room all day. Different teachers come to the classroom over the course of the day to teach the same group of students. Antal also said there is more freedom for students in picking the classes they want to take. He’s currently taking AP Art. “That’s my favorite class.”
While it is difficult for Antal to be away from home, he has been able to Skype with his family a few times. The support he gets from his house family and friends has also been helpful. He said the community has been extremely supportive and friendly to him. “That was the most important thing, (about wrestling) to make friends,” Antal said. It also didn’t take long for fans to warm to Antal. “They were cheering me from the first day. That helped a lot.”