Ralph Bernardo’s distinction is one that many wrestlers probably never will be able to claim.
The senior grappler at Thomas S. Wootton High School wasn’t taken down throughout his entire junior season.
Well, not while he was conscious, anyway.
In a match against James H. Blake’s Will Sewell at 220 pounds, Bernardo caught a head butt directly under his eye and was temporarily knocked unconscious.
“When that happened, I was like, ‘Oh God, I’m done. I’m out. Coach, it’s over,’” Bernardo said. “But then coach came over and calmed me down and after a minute or so I went back in.”
Not only did Bernardo return to the match, he beat Sewell as part of a solid junior campaign that saw the former heavyweight fall to Eleanor Roosevelt’s Tommie Boozer in the 4A/3A state semifinals.
This season, after beginning his high school tenure at heavyweight and dropping to 220 last year, Bernardo has worked to become eligible in the 195-pound weight class. He wrestled his first tournament at that weight last weekend at the Bear Cave Crawl at Oakdale.
“Everything was a little quicker, a little stronger,” said Bernardo who still will wrestle at 220 in dual meets. “I’ve got to get my style down at 195 and make adjustments. People try to take me down whereas at 220 and the heavyweights, guys do switches and duck under. It’s a move war.”
The 5-foot-10 grappler pinned all of his opponents until the final bout, which lasted the full six minutes, at Oakdale.
“He’s much lighter, he’s much quicker and he doesn’t appear to have lost any of his strength at all,” Patriots coach Kevin O’Neill said. “I know he’s got his mind set on working toward the state championship and I’m going to do everything I can to get him there.”
Bernardo competed in the Junior Olympics in Texas this past summer and said his main motivation for dropping from 220 to 195 was fueled by the college weight system. There’s no 220-pound weight class in college, but there is a spot for 197. Bernardo, who also plays football and would like to do so in college, said it’s the first time he’s actively had to portion his meals.
“Last week, I was trying to figure out how much I could eat,” said Bernardo, a two-year captain at Wootton. “My mom would make dinner expecting me to eat and she would be like, ‘What are you doing? [Why] aren’t you eating everything?’”
After breaking his arm during his freshman season, Bernardo bounced back well and continues to be one of the better-conditioned wrestlers in the area. The only overtime match he lost last season was in the state semifinals against Boozer, a match that Bernardo said he thinks about all the time.
“He has better stamina and cardiovascular fitness than anyone else on our team,” O’Neill said. “For a guy his size, wrestling at the weight class that he does, for him to have the conditioning and the stamina he does is a huge benefit. That’s one thing that stands out to me.”
Bernardo said his top college choice is the Coast Guard Academy, but he’s still mulling his options and looking for the right fit to continue the next stage of his life.
“He won’t let the other guys on our team quit,” O’Neill said. “He pushes all the other guys in the room to improve and he wants the best out of everybody on the team. He makes everyone else better.”