When this article was first published in August, Kevin Parker said he was "committed to the admissions process" at Princeton. On October 1, his commitment became official. Congratulations!
It was one of the biggest matches of Kevin Parker's life, yet the Shenendehowa wrestler said he took the mat for the 170-pound Division 1 state championship "the calmest I've ever been for a wrestling match."
“My thought process was - I did whatever I could to get ready, I want to just go out and enjoy it," he said. "Maybe I was a little numb to what was going on, but I just knew at that point that I could go out and wrestle my match.”
He took care of business, beating Nate Schwab of Clarence for the fourth time of the season in a 5-1 decision that gave Parker his first state championship.
“He’s a very good wrestler,” Parker said of Schwab. “Having wrestled him three times already, I was confident I could beat him, but our last match was only 2-0 at Eastern States, so I wasn’t overconfident.”
As soon as it was over, Parker looked up at the stands.
“I was thinking about my family,” he said. “My brother [Greg Parker] was on the floor with me helping me to prepare for the match, but I immediately pointed to my aunt and uncle, my sister and her fiance, my parents. My team came down to see me too. Without their support, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
That support system has been there for years to watch Parker, who made his debut at the Times Union Center as a 99 pound eighth grader in 2012. He went 0-2 in that appearance and had the same record when he wrestled at the state championships as a 138 pound sophomore in 2014, an experience that helped shape his path for his 11th grade campaign.
“I definitely improved a lot after my sophomore year, working with my brother and my coaches,” he said. “One of the biggest things was the mental aspect. I was cutting a lot of weight to get to 140 and it had a very negative impact on how I perceived wrestling. I didn’t have full capacity to focus on my training. Last year was totally different. I would get up, eat breakfast and weigh in at 168. My body was where it should’ve been. It was a lot of weight off my shoulders.”
He had a breakout campaign, going 46-4, with his only two in-state losses coming to Division 2 champ Jordan Bushey of Peru in the Eastern States Classic title match and to John Glenn’s Brandon Aviles in a high-scoring affair at the Union-Endicott Duals. Parker racked up more than 25 pins and won just five matches by regular decision prior to the state tournament. And as the season went on, his confidence grew.
“I always try to set high goals for myself and I always had the goal of being a state champ,” he said. “But everybody wants that and trains with that in mind. I think it slowly materialized throughout the season as I was beating top ranked guys that I could do it. It was a slow progression and climb for me, but it was definitely always the goal.”
His achievements didn’t stop at the Times Union Center. An NHSCA All-American in 2014, Parker decided to attend FloNationals this year in a loaded 170-pound class. In fact, in the Round of 12, he faced another decorated New York wrestler, two-time state finalist Trevor Allard of Mexico, in a match Parker took 9-2 to secure a place on the medal stand. He ultimately took sixth in the prestigious event.
“Flo is a very, very tough tournament,” he said. “Frank Popolizio encouraged me to go and it was a good experience with a lot of good matches. I wrestled nine matches in two days and all of the guys are top tier in their states.”
That wasn’t all. Later in the spring at the New York State Freestyle and Greco championships, Parker convincingly won in both styles for the second consecutive year. This time, however, it made him a Triple Crown winner.
“When I was younger, I wrestled [former Wantagh wrestler and nationally-ranked Ohio State recruit] Jose Rodriguez, a really good wrestler,” he said. “He got the youth Triple Crown and I knew I wanted to get it at some point, but was never quite able to do it. It’s kind of funny to do it all these years later in high school and it’s exciting for me. It’s personal validation because I try to train hard in all three styles.”
A few weeks later, Parker took the mat at Fargo in Junior competition, winning three times in Greco Roman before putting together a 5-2 performance in Freestyle with four technical falls on the way to All-America status with a seventh place finish.
“I was definitely happy with the experience,” he said. “It helped to have Joe Uccellini there with me, who is kind of an honorary brother. Fargo is very much a grind. It’s a stressful experience but also fun. It was exciting to finally place after a few years of 2-2 or 3-2-type situations.”
The big tournaments of the summer are over, but Parker hasn’t stopped working. He recently attended an Askren Wrestling camp in Wisconsin and said he has a “network” of places to train, including Curby 3 Style, Journeymen and, of course, the Shenendehowa room. In addition, earlier this summer, he went to camp at Princeton University, a place he goes “whenever he can” to practice at the Regional Training Center (Princeton Amateur Wrestling Society).
He plans to spend a lot more time there in the future.
“I committed to the admissions process at Princeton,” he said of his college plans, noting that he also was in contact with schools like Columbia and Harvard. “Princeton has built up the program with a really good coaching staff and a lot of quality wrestlers. I think the team is poised to do great things in the next few years. I’ve definitely been a fan for a long time and have a very close connection to the program because my brother did well there.”
Greg Parker certainly “did well” during his college career with the Tigers. A 1996 New York State champ, Parker was a two-time All-American for Princeton, including a second place NCAA finish as a junior. He also was a two-time EIWA champion and the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the 2003 conference tournament. He was named one of the top 10 Princeton athletes of the 2000s.
Throughout the interview, Kevin Parker talked about the strong influence his sibling continues to have on him.
“My brother lives in the [Albany] area, which is really nice,” Kevin Parker said. “It’s helpful for me to get to work out with him a lot. We’re close. He’s almost my personal life coach. He’s very supportive, as is my whole family. He’s been through all the situations I’m going through and he gives me perspective on how to prepare for high school and college.”
However, before college begins, Parker has one more year on the New York scholastic scene. And he plans to make the most of it.
“I’m excited about how last year went, winning the state championship and doing it while not cutting weight and enjoying life a little more," he said. "My next focus is on another state championship this year and slowly getting myself ready for Division 1 wrestling. That’s the next big change in my life and I’m really excited.”
The head coach at Shenendehowa High School is Robert Weeks.