Wrestling helped Team USA grappler James Green overcome his father’s senseless murder.
Team USA’s James Green will be participating in the annual Beat The Streets Wrestling (BTS) extravaganza and fundraiser, the largest grassroots inner-city wrestling program in the United States
— Beat the Streets NYC (@BeattheStreets) May 5, 2019
The organization’s mission is to develop the full potential of urban youth and to strengthen the culture of New York City wrestling. The showcase has helped BTS raise millions of dollars to support local youth wrestling programs.
In addition to matches with local BTS kids, in past years, Team USA has faced off against teams from around the world including Japan, Cuba, Russia and Iran. This year’s theme is “Team USA vs. NCAA Champions.”
But for Green, wrestling and Beat The Streets is about much more than a theme or a competition; it’s about a sport that helped saved his life during a time of tragedy.
Tragedy To Triumph
When James Green wrestles in BTS, he does so with an intention to promote a better life for inner city kids. He also has a deep understanding of what many of them go through, as his life journey is an example of how wrestling can be a saving grace.
Green’s father was a great man who became a victim of the streets. He was a former record producer who was shot and murdered in his own New Jersey basement by a misguided rap artist that he was trying to help by offering the young man an alternative to the dead-end street life.
James was just 10-years old at the time, with a mom, two younger sisters and a cousin to look after. When his dad fell victim to the pitfalls of the urban jungle, James refused to let the tragedy define his existence.
His father moved here from Jamaica when he was in high school and met James’ mom. They started a family in Brooklyn and moved to Willingboro, NJ when James was just three. James remembers his dad as a positive person who got him involved in football and wrestling at a young age.
New Jersey stars @WhoIsJamesG , @AnthonyAshnault first announced @BeattheStreets ‘Grapple At The Garden’ match, May 6 at @TheGarden Hulu Theater@RUWrestling @NebraskaWTC @FloWrestling @wrestling @titan_mercury
— USA Wrestling (@USAWrestling) April 5, 2019
“…the fact that it was someone that he knew and we thought was a friend of the family, kind of made me keep to myself and be more cautious,” James told The Shadow League in anticipation of his BTS match against fellow New Jersey wrestler and NCAA champion, Anthony Ashnault.
“I have two younger sisters and she was three at the time my dad was shot…and an older cousin,” Green reflects. “I had to mature early and I felt as long as I was wrestling and did what I had to do, I kind of gave my mom something less to worry about. So I stayed low, didn’t ask for much and as long as I could go to practice and tournaments, I’d be happy… keep my mind off things.”
“I put everything in wrestling. It was great to have something to keep me occupied…Being able to wrestle and still do something I found happiness in, helped me through a rough time. I kept my head low, stayed out of trouble and kept wrestling.”
“The friends and family we made kept us going and helped us”
Going into his freshman year in High School, Green was only 103 pounds. But his wrestling potential was special, so he decided to quit football and focus on wrestling.
Now the 26-year-old is one of the elite wrestlers in the world. In 2015, he took third at the World Championships. In 2017, he made it to finals and took silver. He says he’s on a championship hunt this season, but first he has to make the World Team again.
His warm-up begins with his BTS match.
Despite the tragedy, James has fond memories of his wrestling experiences after his Dad’s murder and he credits his wrestling community, friends, and family for helping him achieve his goals.
“A lot of people offered to help us by taking me to tournaments and different practices,” Green, a four-time All-American at Nebraska, who took third in a college open tournament as a junior in high school, said.
“I met a lot of great friends and people along the way who introduced my family to the sport of wrestling, made sacrifices for us… We made family vacations out of traveling to tournaments in places like Maryland and Virginia. So it’s really important to have a support system.”
BEAT THE STREETS PROVIDES HOPE
But what about the inner-city kids who don’t have a support system?
Kids who lose loved ones to senseless violence often don’t enjoy the support that Green’s talents earned him. That’s where Beat The Streets and its 3,000 kids and 150 different programs come in, said Green.
“Wrestling is a predominantly white sport and the higher you go, the fewer African-Americans or minorities you see. I think there’s a lot that goes into it… why wrestling is so low key; costs, exposure. For a program like Beat The Streets to have inner-city kids and show them the opportunities that can happen with wrestling…it’s what we need.”
“If we were to have more exposure in that aspect, people of African-American backgrounds would be drawn to it. Everybody can’t play football or basketball but anybody tall, small, heavy, light can wrestle. There are weight classes for everyone. Just have to be disciplined.”
Social Media And Rising Diversity In Wrestling
“When I was coming up social media was on the rise and growing,” said Green. “I was in wrestling but wasn’t a fan of wrestling. I didn’t know the history, I didn’t even know about the great African-American wrestlers like Kenny Monday and Kevin Jackson. I barely even knew my teammate Jordan Burroughs because I was more focused on doing what I had to do in my weight class.”
The fact that now we have social media and Flow and all these events going on, kids get to see it and it’s even more beneficial to them. I would like to see more African-Americans in the sport, especially because we could have great success.”
Team USA already has three African-American male wrestlers in Green and fellow BTS grapplers J’Den Cox and Jordan Burroughs.
“And minority-wise, there’s also Joe Calone,” Green proudly reminds us. “So it’s definitely changing. We have representation at the highest level and put it on a platform and show kids you don’t have to play mainstream sports to be successful in life.”
To catch all of the action, check out FloWrestling (http://www.flowrestling.org) as they will be providing live coverage of all matches from the Hulu Theater tonight at Madison Square Garden.