‘It’s just phenomenal what wrestling has done for him’: Despite many challenges, Grade 12 Bluevale student has thrived and excelled in sport

WATERLOO — Ali Mussa Ali made it look easy when he first stepped onto the wrestling mat in December, dominating opponent after opponent on his way to winning two Ontario championships last month.

In reality, his rapid rise – throughout his life – was far from easy.

Mussa Ali, a Grade 12 Life Skills student in the Alternative Continuum of Education (ACE) program at Bluevale Collegiate, returned Thursday afternoon with a gold medal around his neck after a 19-second win in the boys’ 41-kilogram class .

His smile was the real deal as students passed him in the hallway and congratulated him on his success, some with punches, some with handshakes and others with hugs.

“Thank you,” he replied to the well-wishers. “Thank you very much.”

Angela Bender, a wrestling coach and teaching assistant at Bluevale, took it all in and cherished the moment, as did teacher/coach Steve Szimanski.

“I get absolutely emotional talking about Ali. I’ve known him for four years and have seen him through his ups and downs and now to have the honor of coaching him and seeing how that has really impacted his life is truly a blessing,” he said bender

“You couldn’t ask for more as a coach or EA in the classroom. It’s just phenomenal what wrestling has done to him over the past few months.”

A few minutes later, Mussa makes Ali smile again, this time as he poses for a photo with student Madi Splane from St David’s, the other student from the Waterloo area who won gold at the OFSAA Championships. Splane, 17, is a teammate of Mussa Ali at KW Kaos, a club founded by Bender, and took first place in the girls’ category at 41kg.

Mussa Ali, along with his mother and sister, made the difficult journey from Eritrea to Canada with another family in 2016 and settled in Waterloo. Unfortunately, their mother died in the summer of 2020 and the two siblings were taken in by the Salih family, who traveled to Canada with them.

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Mussa Ali began teaching Bluevale in September 2019. The transition to high school was far from seamless.

“He had his struggles here. Being small (just over 5 feet tall) and in the ACE program, he was trying to figure out how to fit in. It was hard for him because he’s a social person, and then of course COVID came along and it was very tough for him too,” Bender said.

“But now he walks around with a smile, he has confidence and he’s proud, and people have met him and they’ve been super supportive.”

Bender had been trying to get Mussa Ali into wrestling since he first met him. Her perseverance paid off in December when, after a week of practice, he won his first high school competition at Bluevale. He won the Waterloo County (WCSSAA) and Central Western Ontario (CWOSSA) championships, and after joining Bender at KW Kaos, he was awarded gold at the Ontario Youth Championships in Unionville on February 4th.

Mussa Ali was the only athlete in his weight class at the provincial championships but had an exhibition bout with 45 kg champion Om Patel and pinned him in the first round. Patel was the 2022 national champion and won third place in his division at OFSAA.

Speed ​​and power are his greatest assets, Bender said, but Mussa Ali also gives credit to one of his coaches at Kaos.

“Coach (Ryan) Berkin taught me a lot of wrestling moves,” he said.

Next up for Mussa Ali is the Canadian Championship this month in Vancouver.

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There was no way he could have afforded the trip on his own, Bender said, so a plan was hatched to sell baked goods at WCSSAA. Other Bluevale wrestlers joined in and the treats raised $400.

A subsequent lasagna dinner for Bluevale employees — “they’re so generous and supportive,” Bender said — raised another $1,000.

Mussa Ali, who works at Bustard’s Auto Detailing as part of the ACE program, helped with both fundraisers.

“He’s so excited to go to Nationals,” Bender said. “So very, very excited.”

He’s also grateful for the support, his trainer adds, and hopes one day he’ll be able to do the same for another young wrestler.

Meanwhile, Splane is enrolled in the Specialist High Skills Major (Justice and Community Safety), a program that encourages students to focus their education on a specific employment sector. The 12th grader hopes to continue her education at Conestoga College next year.

At OFSAA, she won her gold medal with a second-round pin from Massey’s Aamina Ajaz. She also won provincial gold with Kaos last month, but a family trip to Europe will prevent her from competing in national competitions.

“My competitive spirit picked up a little bit more this year, my senior year of high school, so I figured I might as well give everything I’ve got,” Splane said. “That was probably my toughest tournament.”

She started the sport to follow in her older brother Jaden’s footsteps and has seen her confidence grow as a result.

She remains shy and quiet, but the difference can be felt by those who know her.

“I’ve probably come into my own more on the wrestling mat than I have in the last 17 years of my life,” said Splane, who also measures just over five feet.

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Longtime teacher/trainer Shane Verbiski coaches Splane at St David’s along with Jane Lanteigne, a former OFSAA silver medalist who works for the Waterloo Catholic District School Board and is a trainer in Kaos.

“I’m proud of her; she worked hard,” Lanteigne said. “It’s nice when you coach and see the kids improve and apply some of the things you teach them.”

In the other boys Malakai Trink of Cameron Heights finished second behind Mussa Ali with 41 kg, Marcus Figueiredo of Monsignor Doyle sixth with 47.5, LeTrell Russell of Resurrection third with 54, Luke Redmond-Jaworski of Monsignor Doyle third with 67.5, Adrien Larocque of KCI was fourth in 83, Christopher Comini of Monsignor Doyle 89 was sixth, Joseph Reitzel of Resurrection 95 was sixth and Keynan Dalton of Jacob Hespeler 130 was fourth.

In other girls results Ally Garrow of Waterloo-Oxford was fifth in 38, Patricia Lehman of St. David was fourth in 44, Hani Haredo of Eastwood was sixth in 47.5, Tatiana Guzman of Cameron Heights was second in 51, Myla Blackshaw of Resurrection Second in 54, KCI’s Kate Thorne third in 57.5, Waterloo-Oxford’s Kylee Lubbers sixth in 67.5, Jacob Hespeler’s Claire Darlow fifth in 77 and Cameron Heights’ Mercedes Bauer fifth in 89.


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