Each day of the school year, Robert Howard ’20 takes the 1+ hour bus ride to Bergen Catholic from his home in Cranford where he lives with his mom, dad and two younger brothers. He said he chose BC, rather than a high school offering a less onerous commute, because of the strength of the wrestling program and because he and his family “fell in love with the brotherhood.”
The strength of Bergen Catholic’s wrestling program is undeniable. They’ve been district champions every year since 1990, Parochial A state champs for the last 7 years and they were national champions in 2018. Over the life of the program, 25 BC wrestlers have won over 100 bouts.
Howard started wrestling young — first grade, in fact — and he’s progressed steadily ever since. Last October, he won a gold medal at the Summer Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, wrestling in the 55 kg (121 lb.) weight class, and last season won the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) crown in the 120-pound division. He’s been a member of the U.S. Cadet World Wrestling Championships team twice and was #2 in the nation in the October 10th “Adidas National High School Wrestling Individual Rankings” at 126 lbs.
Howard, who is also a good student, is, unsurprisingly, highly motivated. “I’m deathly afraid of being average,” he said. “I literally couldn’t imagine not being the best I can be at what I do.” Frequently asked what else he does for fun outside of the sport, Howard says, “I like being in high school and hanging out with friends, but to compete at this level, it’s hard to have other hobbies and interests. Wrestling occupies a lot of my time and it’s really the only thing that I do.” Asked if he regrets that and wishes the commitment wasn’t so all-consuming, Howard replied that he wouldn’t have it any other way. “This sport has taken me from someone who was shy to someone who is able to speak in front of people. It’s going to carry me into college and get me into a good school. I would not change anything that I’ve done.” He’s thought of as a good kid, too, and Howard thinks it’s just because of the person he’s tried to become. “I want to be the same kind of person that I looked up to when I was in middle school. I used to send messages to Daton Fix (one of the country’s top-ranked high school wrestlers at the time, who now wrestles for Oklahoma State) or I’d comment on Instagram pictures of him. One day he sent me a response and it really meant a lot to me.”
Howard now tries to do the same for younger kids. When someone messages him, he always tries to answer, and if someone asks for a picture, he’ll get them one. After wrestling an 11-year-old at club practice, the boy’s father wrote on Facebook how thankful he was that Howard had made the gesture. Howard is uncomfortable with that kind of praise, saying, “I just try to treat people with respect.”
And what does the future hold? Next June, Howard will try out for his third Cadet World team, with the tournament to be held in Sofia, Bulgaria in July/August. After that, he’ll attend one of his top three college choices — Michigan, Penn State or Iowa. (He’s still uncommitted.)
Although he’ll try out for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, he admits that at his age the prospects are slim — but he said he definitely plans on making the team for the 2024 games in Paris.