Varsity Xtra: The Wrestler -- Brashear senior wants to be City's inaugural PIAA champion
Godwin Nyama of Brashear wants to be the City League's first PIAA champion.
Godwin Nyama (facing camera) practices a move against Brashear teammate Doug Sauer during practice Tuesday.
Share with others:
Godwin Nyama navigates a few flights of stairs every day to get to the third-floor wrestling room for practice at Brashear High School.
The climb parallels Nyama's career.
A senior, Nyama (pronounced Ni-AM-a) has gone from a novice wrestler as a freshman who used to lose bouts against his sister, to a one-of-a-kind wrestler. He has climbed the ladder of success and reached high points never seen before by a Pittsburgh City League wrestler.
Meet Godwin Nyama, the trailblazer.
"What he has done so far, it's never going to happen again in the City League," Brashear coach Nate Geller said. "However narrow-minded that might sound, it's true."
City League schools began sponsoring wrestling teams in the 1988-89 season, but it has rarely been a popular sport for inner-city, African-American youth. Nyama, though, has used it to make a name for himself and also help him pay for college. Nyama is only 5 feet 5, but consider his giant accomplishments.
• Last year, he was the first City League wrestler to win a regional championship.
• Last year, he was the first City wrestler to win a match at the PIAA tournament and he finished seventh in his weightclass in Class AAA.
• This season, he was the first City wrestler to win a championship at the prestigious Powerade tournament at Canon-McMillan during the holidays. The Powerade is considered one of the top tournaments in the country and Nyama defeated some top WPIAL and even nationally ranked wrestlers .
• Nyama, who competes in the 120-pound weight class, is the first City wrestler to earn a wrestling scholarship to a Division I college. He signed with Pitt in November, earning a half scholarship for athletics and half for academics from the Pittsburgh Promise program. Nyama, a Mount Washington resident, is a good student with a 3.4 grade-point average and plans to be a pre-med major.
For now Nyama is talking about something that has been unthinkable for City League wrestlers. Maybe there is a reason "win" is at the end of his first name.
"I want to win a state championship this year," he said. "That's my No. 1 goal."
And to think this is a kid who had to be coaxed into giving wrestling a try as a freshman. His older sister, Makisa, wrestled for Brashear and finished second in the City League tournament one year. Godwin used to attend some of his sister's matches and decided -- somewhat grudgingly -- to try the sport as a freshman, at the urging of Geller. As a freshman in practice bouts, Godwin used to lose to his sister, and he thought about quitting early in the season.
"I wasn't too good and I didn't like it that much," Nyama said.
But he didn't quit, and as the season progressed, he started improving and opening eyes. He ended up going 20-10 as a freshman and performed admirably in tournaments outside the City League.
Nyama credits two Brashear assistant coaches -- Terry Hanna and Cheny Lewis -- for having huge impacts on his career. Hanna is a 67-year-old man who wrestled at Canon-McMillan High School and who has coached at a number of levels. Hanna and Lewis take Nyama to various tournaments throughout the year.
"I will always remember when Terry took Godwin to this freestyle tournament when he was a ninth-grader," Geller said. "I remember Terry called me on the phone and said, 'We're going to states. I don't know when, but we're going one of these years.'"
City League wrestling doesn't have much in the form of youth feeder programs. While some WPIAL wrestlers start the sport at age 5 or 6, many City League athletes wrestle for the first time in ninth grade.
Nyama was one those late starters, and that's why Hanna contends Nyama's story is almost hard to believe.
"He's an amazing story," Hanna said. "In all my years that I've been coaching, I have never seen an individual wrestler peak in such a short period of time. He's beating kids who have been wrestling since they were not long out of diapers. He might be one out of 1,000 wrestlers.
"He wrestles year-round now, and he'll be an All-American in college if he stays healthy. There is no doubt in my mind about that."
Geller will tell you many kids in the city don't wrestle because it's not a "glamour" sport such as football or basketball. Nyama knows the stereotype exists that City League kids can't be good wrestlers.
"I played other sports when I was younger, and some kids told me not to wrestle," Nyama said. "But I'm not too big, so I don't know about playing other sports, and I'm not a follower. I just do what is best for me."
Now he's talking about big things -- such as a PIAA championship, and doing well at Pitt. Outside of high school, Nyama wrestles for two clubs -- the Pitt Wrestling Club and the "Pitbulls."
"I was always the little guy who wanted to go to Pitt. I was kind of like the water boy when I was younger and I never thought they would take me that seriously," Nyama said. "I used to watch the wrestling tournaments on TV, the state tournament in Hershey and would watch the Powerade. I never thought I'd be in them."
Mike Gavlik, the City League's director of athletics, believes Nyama might be attracting other individuals to wrestling.
"He made himself into what he is," Gavlik said. "I can remember always seeing him selling candy bars so he could raise enough money to go to this tournament or that tournament.
"The sport of wrestling in the City has taken a while to evolve to where we have a wrestler with Godwin's ability. It's not an easy sport. For him to latch onto it like he did and for him to accomplish everything he has, it's just amazing."
But there is one goal that is constantly on his mind.
"He wants to win the state," Geller said.