Penn State University wrestling coach Cael Sanderson, right, works with...

Penn State University wrestling coach Cael Sanderson, right, works with Alonso Noriega, 15, of Brentwood, left, during a wrestling clinic at Islip High School on  Friday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The opportunity to learn from the best of the best does not come around often.

On Friday at Islip High School, dozens of youth wrestlers were in the presence of the sport’s royalty.

Cael Sanderson — an 11-time NCAA national championship-winning coach at Penn State, a four-time national champion wrestler at Iowa State and an Olympic gold medalist in 2004 — held two clinics to share his wisdom and educate the next generation of wrestlers.

“You just want to really just share your passion for the sport and the principles that can help them be successful, and things that we focus on and work on as a program and obviously I work on individually,” said Sanderson, who has been the Penn State coach since 2010. “So yeah, I love sharing that with the kids. I was there many years ago, working up through the camps, and you just want to do what you can.”

The clinics, a part of the three-day KD National Champ Camp, were open to students from first grade to 12th. Penn State wrestler and four-time national champion Aaron Brooks held a clinic at Islip Thursday and Rutgers wrestler and 2019 NCAA champion Anthony Ashnault held one Wednesday.

Brooks arrived in Islip just five days after winning his fourth national title, and his coach was there six days after winning his 11th.

“It’s a privilege, it’s a blessing,” said Islip athletic director John Sparacio, who wrestled at North Babylon and Hofstra. “The magnitude of what you have here, we’ve had two four-time national champions in our gym. It’s just a blessing. I’m in awe.

“As a former wrestler and a wrestling fan, you hope that the kids realize the significance of who’s in front of them.”

During the clinics, Sanderson would have everyone gather around him in the center of the four mats, teaching a technique or two. The wrestlers would then break up into pairs across the gym to practice what they learned, and Sanderson roamed around to each one to provide individual input.

“Well, I usually do a lot of boring stuff, just fundamentals,” the 44-year-old Sanderson said of his clinics. “And so probably not vibing, but it was stuff that I enjoy.”

Penn State University wrestling coach Cael Sanderson works with P.J....

Penn State University wrestling coach Cael Sanderson works with P.J. Duke, 17, of Minisink, NY, during a wrestling clinic at Islip High School, Friday, March 29, 2024. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The wrestlers, who came from all over Long Island (and even California and Florida), had an opportunity to formally meet and take pictures with Sanderson before and after the sessions.

Khaled Dassan, a wrestling coach and the owner of the KD Training Center in Yonkers, organized the camp. It was the third year it was held at Islip, but it was the first with Sanderson participating — and the first time Dassan watched him put on a clinic.

“It’s pretty special,” Dassan said. “It’s something that I never imagined when I started doing this, that I’d be able to have Coach Sanderson here . . . It meant a lot to me. Bringing him to New York was something so special, and it just doesn't happen.”

Tony Negron, who owns USA Emergency Board-Up and Restoration Services, and TriStar Capital’s David Edelstein and Eric Carlson sponsored wrestlers who otherwise would not be able to afford the camp.

A Utah native, Sanderson does not have any real ties to Long Island, but he respects its history. Perhaps some of Friday’s wrestlers will eventually follow in his footsteps.

“There’s just a long history of wrestling success on Long Island,” Sanderson said. “It’s a well-known hotbed of wrestling.”


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