Third-generation grappler from Burnaby earns scholarship to highly ranked Oregon State

HOWARD TSUMURA 
VANCOUVER DESI 

Amar Dhesi

Burnaby Central Secondary School’s Amar Dhesi is one of the province’s top wrestlers and inherited his love of the sport from his father and grandfather, both of whom wrestled in India. Ric Ernst/PNG

There is a YouTube video from the summer of 2011 in which wrestler Amar Dhesi is being interviewed in a hospital room after suffering an injury during a Team B.C. practice session at the Western Canada Summer Games.

Dhesi’s left ankle is wrapped in a bandages, and there are a pair of crutches propped up against the wall.

“But I still wrestled,” the senior grappler from Burnaby Central Secondary recalled with a laugh last week. “They taped it up really well, and the next day I went out and won the meet.”

On the eve of the 2013 B.C. high school wrestling championships, set to begin a three-day run Thursday at the Island Savings Centre arena in Duncan, uttering the phrase ‘lead-pipe cinch’ is a sure-fire way to steer the conversation to Dhesi, the insanely talented super-heavyweight who brings the nuanced skills of a much lighter competitor to the mat in the frame of a 6-foot-2, 260-pound giant.

To provide a frame of reference from the sport of basketball, Dhesi would be just like your average, run-of-the-mill 6-foot-10 point guard.

“He is just special,” begins Gianni Buono, the Burnaby Central head coach who has been coaching at the high school level for 24 years. “He just knows how to move for a big man. I’d like to say kid, but he is a man. He has all the skills of a lightweight wrestler. He doesn’t wrestle like a heavyweight.”

An absolute stickler for technique, Dhesi, who proudly proclaims himself to be “a third generation wrestler,” inherited his love for the sport from his father Baldir, and from his grandfather, both of whom wrestled in India.

Older brother Parm, now a freshman kingpin on the mat at Douglas College, provided about as stern a training partner as you could find. Parm, in fact, beat his younger brother at 110 kilos in the B.C. high school final back in 2011 and is now up for Sport B.C.’s High School Athlete of the Year.

With that kind of a family tree, it’s not surprising that Dhesi first hit the mat at age five. Along the way, he has won numerous national titles, including two prestigious FILA cadet crowns. Come Saturday, he’ll be attempting to win his third B.C. high school gold medal.

And Dhesi’s success has done more than catch the attention of some of the biggest collegiate wrestling programs around. This fall, he heads off to Oregon State on a full-ride scholarship, joining a Beavers’ program currently ranked ninth in NCAA Div. 1, the highest ranking of any school in the western half of the U.S.

The Beavers couldn’t help but notice Dhesi. Last year, at a regional competition in the U.S., Dhesi easily beat Oregon State’s No. 1-rated incoming freshman grappler, even though he was a full year younger.

Take one look at his physique, and the first thing you think is raw, brute strength. But as Dhesi is quick to say: “For me it’s always been my technique before my strength. You just have to go out there, stay on the mat, and practice one move a thousand times.”

Adds Buono: “We have a very technical sport, every move is technical. Your hand grip and placement is so important in being successful, and he has mastered all the fine details.

Developmentally, for his age, he is at a senior national level. He can compete with men and that is extremely unusual. A lot of times at that level you can’t compete as a heavyweight because strength and power will overwhelm technique at those weight classes. But he has both and I have never seen it before.

“Of all the kids I have coached,” continued Buono, “there is no doubt that he is the best at this stage of the game, and I don’t even know how many provincial and national champions we have had.”

Weigh-ins for both the boys and girls goes on Thursday, with competitors hitting the mat for competition Friday and Saturday.

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