Patchogue-Medford High School senior Siraj Hamza Ibn Abdul Aziz is a star on the wrestling mat and in the school play. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

He’s a team player and the star of the show.

Patchogue-Medford senior Siraj Hamza Ibn Abdul Aziz is a two-sport student-athlete who also has the lead in the school musical, “The Prom."

Whether he’s on the wrestling mat or on center stage, Abdul Aziz doesn't shy away from the spotlight.

“This is my first attempt at acting and I’m embracing it,” he said. “It could be the next important step in my life’s journey. I have a lot of friends in the play, and they asked me to try out. I thought, ‘Why not?’ "

His two worlds, athletics and the performing arts, collided Saturday afternoon when he was running between the high school gymnasium and the auditorium. Patchogue-Medford hosted the Suffolk League I wrestling tournament in the gym while across the hall was a rehearsal to prepare for the first of three shows beginning Thursday night.

Two firsts were on the line for the 17-year-old Abdul Aziz. He was trying to win his first 285-pound wrestling crown and practice for his first school play performance. He would wrestle a bout then run over to rehearsal.

“It was exhausting watching him go back and forth,” said Anthony Cracco, the director of athletics at Patchogue-Medford. “At one point, he rehearsed for the play in his wrestling singlet — it was hysterical."

Abdul Aziz channeled conflicting emotions all day. He shuttled between the soft-spoken Principal Hawkins for the play, then switched to tenacious competitor in the center of the mat.

“It’s hard to stay in a physical beast mode when you’re singing,” said Vicky Wilson, mother of Abdul Aziz's close friend Jesse Wilson. “You need to find that inner switch to turn off the beast mode and focus on your character — and that’s not easy.”

Abdul Aziz said getting into character in the play helps him escape from his reality and become someone else.

"Memorizing my lines is still a challenge," Abdul Aziz said. "And balancing my time is a challenge. I get to school at 7 a.m. and have nine straight classes with no breaks and then it’s off to wrestling practice and rehearsal.”

James Browning, directing his second play at the high school and sixth overall in the Patchogue-Medford district, has been impressed by Abdul Aziz's work.

“Not everyone stars on both stages,” Browning said. “But he does. We lost some male lead roles to graduation and weren't sure what we were going to do. Siraj comes along and totally captivates us. He infuses his vision into the character and presents it so well. It’s surprising to have someone come in and be so good with no experience.”

Patchogue-Medford wrestling coach Tom Anello said Abdul Aziz is a quick learner.

“He’s so talented. He sings the national anthem before every home match,” Anello said. “He’s only wrestled for two years and he’s such a naturally gifted athlete. I wish we had more time to work with him because there’s so much untapped potential.”

Despite having little experience in both ventures, Abdul Aziz celebrates the wins along the way and learns from his mistakes.

“Two completely different mindsets are at work for me,” Abdul Aziz said. “It felt natural to change my mindset from one to the other. When I get on the mat, I’m laser focused on the opponent. When I’m on stage, I’m laser focused on my character. There is a varying degree of success at times. But it can be humbling in both worlds, either when you lose a match or forget a line.”

Abdul Aziz  is 29-6 on the mat and seeded seventh in the Suffolk Division I tournament, which starts Saturday. He placed second in the League I tournament after letting a one-point lead slip away in the final 10 seconds of a 10-6 loss in the 285-pound final.

The disappointment has not derailed Abdul Aziz's goal of a county place finish.

“He makes improvements quickly,” Anello said. “And hopefully he can really impress people in the county tournament.”


For Abdul Aziz, life has been quite the challenge. He never knew his biological mother and his stepmom died when he was 2.

“It’s painful to think about it, so I don’t, but it’s always there,” he said. “There was no maternal influence in my life, but my dad did what he could to support me financially with whatever he had. He’s a great man. And at the end of the day, he taught me all of my morals and my ideals.”

His father, Hashim Abdul-Aziz, has been his lifeline and lone caretaker. Father and son moved from Hempstead to Patchogue three years ago and live in a one-bedroom apartment. Every night Abdul Aziz sleeps on the couch, not ideal for his 6-4, 215-pound frame.

“That's the reality of my situation,” Abdul Aziz said. “Some people don’t even have a couch to sleep on. We all have our challenges in life. The reality for me is not having what most have and take for granted. It may affect me, but not in a negative sense. I’ve made do with what I have.”

Abdul Aziz has tremendous respect for his father, who, at 72,  is retired from his job as a security officer in New York City. And his father is impressed by all that his son has accomplished.

“I am very much proud of him,” Abdul-Aziz said. “There’s an old saying: It takes a village to help a child find their way. It’s not just me, but everyone, including a wonderful community that’s been very helpful and reached out in many ways to help him achieve things. I have all the confidence in him to exceed my expectations. I’m happy he’s involved in these sciences in school because it’s influenced his development. He can be very special beyond words as he has wonderful potential.”

Abdul Aziz has become comfortable in his journey as a thespian and wants to study musical education and theater in college.

“The show allows me to show versatility and be more attractive for college,” Abdul Aziz said. “The music is fascinating. When singing a solo it’s more about self-expression and acting. The solos give me freedom to get into character and express myself. When singing with the ensemble it’s about blending in. I have dreams of being in a big production, maybe even Broadway, you know reaching for the heights.”

His father feels no goal is too lofty.

“I’ve always wanted him to face challenges and be his best,” Abdul-Aziz said. “It takes courage in one-on-one situations, like wrestling. And acting, well, that’s another opportunity to challenge oneself.”

Browning sees so many possibilities in Abdul Aziz's  future.

“He brings inflection and softness to the stage,” Browning said. “In terms of dance moves, his athleticism comes into play. He’s a natural leader with the cast and in his role as the principal. His singing is quite impressive as he brings a rich baritone voice. He brings life to his solo and his interactions are spot on. He expresses himself so well. I couldn’t guess what he’ll pursue as a career. He’s so talented and that will present many opportunities. He could be a diplomat, actor, or an athlete because he’s ambitious, compassionate and has a tremendous perspective of life.”

Abdul Aziz said he wouldn’t be able to do everything without Vicky Wilson.

“She has helped me with everything for three years,” he said. “We don’t own a car, so she drives me everywhere. She feeds me like I’m family. She’s been a guiding light — an angel in my life.”

Wilson said Abdul Aziz was so shy when he moved into town.

“He was just a wonderful, respectful kid,” she added. “He’s like a flower starting to bloom. He’s sweet and kind and made me a better person. I retired from the post office after 39 years and I saw he could use the help. It’s like God had a plan. It’s so meaningful to help someone.”

Browning, finishing one of the last rehearsals, said, “Siraj is even-keeled, extremely courteous, independent and mature. He is going places. He’s forward facing and doesn’t look back. He’s dealt with a crisis and taken charge of his life and made his own path.”

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