Making strides

As a newcomer to the mat and country, wrestler grows as an athlete and person


Kelsey Jones

Sophomore Simon Mpole wrestles an opponent from Whiteland High School on Dec. 6.

In the world of SHS sophomore Simon Mpole, wrestling means a lot more than just an after school activity. Though only being introduced to the sport at the beginning of the 2018 season, it has become an important part of his life, as it has shown him new friends, new challenges and a new confidence around others.

Mpole immigrated to the United States in 2016 from the eastern African country of Tanzania. Not knowing any English or anyone from the U.S., he struggled with communication and fitting in with his peers. He was a victim of bullying at SHS and joined wrestling in part to deal with this.

“I can’t force people to like me,” Mpole said. “I can’t waste my time thinking about my haters or people who don’t like me. I just spend my time with my own.”

Wrestling coaches Albert Skinner and Sean Schmaltz noticed Mpole’s athletic ability on the soccer field where he spent a lot of time playing ultimate frisbee. They were also tipped off that their might be underlying issues happening in his school life including bullying. They were compelled and intrigued to add an asset to the team, and at the same time, to be able to help in this young man’s life.

Schmaltz focused on “helping him to learn to defend himself (so) if something was to ever happen, he would know how to handle himself a little better than what he did prior.”

On the other end of this deal, there was a cautious Mpole that had apprehensions about the transition. Never having wrestled before, after the first day he wasn’t sure if he was making the right decision.

“I was nervous because I thought it was kind of dangerous,” said Mpole. “Now, it’s okay.”

One reason he may not have been ready for the challenges he would face was because wrestling was such a new and different sport compared to other sports he’s played. He was forced to adjust to a new time commitment that he did not have before.

“I didn’t really spend a lot of time on frisbee, but wrestling, it really took a long time,” Mpole said. “You wrestle everyday.”

Mpole did not give up on wrestling, and in fact found a love for the competition. One reason he never decided to quit was his support from coaches, teammates and friends. In particular, his friend, Kalenga Juma was there for him during his time of doubt.

“The first thing he told me he said, ‘It’s hard,’” Juma said. “But, I kept encouraging him, saying ‘Man, just keep doing it and get better at it.’”

When Mpole was having trouble, the coaches did not give up on him either. Everyone around him believed in his strength and persistence as a student athlete.

“We convinced him to stay with it,” said Schmaltz. “We promised him that it would help him become a better overall athlete, and he has flourished this year.”

In his first season, he went 13-8 with eight pins while competing on the junior varsity level. It was unexpected for a beginner to reach such a level in such little time, especially having no prior knowledge of the sport, but Mpole was not controlled by the odds.

After giving the sport a real try, he has grown to love it. His natural athletic ability combined with strict practice have led to the discovery of a new passion. Schmaltz has high hopes for what wrestling can do for Mpole and what Mpole can do for the wrestling team. In the short time Mpole has been wrestling, Schmaltz believes he has added positive energy to the team as well as talent in competition.

“He has grown as a person and as a wrestler,” Schmaltz saiid. “He’s a great asset to the team. He’s in a spot where I literally think by the time he leaves high school he could win a state title.”

As well as seeing improvement in his physical abilities, Mpole has gotten more confident off the mat. In any intrapersonal conflicts he may encounter, he says he can now be confident in his abilities.

“I can now stand for myself and I feel like I’m getting strong,” said Mpole. “When I wrestle, I feel like I can represent Southport.”