The cruelness of kids within their own social community can oftentimes have lasting negative effects on their victim.
And then there is Jacob Venezia, who took the callous barbs of former classmates in the same way Superman takes bullets off the chest. He stood tall, absorbed their best (i.e. worst) shots and used them to make a respected name for himself in Mercer County wrestling circles.
When hearing Venezia’s story, one can’t help but feel a satisfied happiness for him and what he has achieved and what he will still accomplish.
Further proof that the good guys win, more often than not.
The Hopewell Valley Central High School junior has emerged as one of the area’s top lightweight wrestlers. Entering the Bulldogs Jan. 15 match with Hamilton, he had an 11-1 record this year with seven pins. During his two-plus years in high school, Venezia is 73-14 with nearly 40 pins. He has won two Mercer County Tournament titles, two district championships and qualified for the states as a sophomore.
As of mid-season, he was at the top of his game.
“He’s just wrestling at a great level,” coach Mario Harpel said after a dual meet win over Hopewell Jan. 8. “He’s a really great competitor, he’s set up to do some good things. He’s a tough kid, a hard-nosed kid. He’ll get right into the match. I’m glad he’s on our team.”
It’s safe to say, no one is picking on Venezia anymore.
It was a little different back in fourth grade, when he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. The symptoms include difficulty managing behavior, hyperactivity and difficulty paying attention and staying focused.
This led to some herky-jerky movements that made Venezia an easy target for insensitive classmates.
“I’m very twitchy, I’m always moving,” Venezia said. “At times I get tics in my face a little bit. Or maybe I would do something or say something out of the ordinary that you don’t normally see in a kid. I guess a lot of times the kids seemed to see me as different. You know how kids get when you’re younger. They used that as a target and a weak spot for me.”
It turned to bullying and reached its zenith in ninth grade.
“I got punched in the back of the head at lunch one day,” Venezia said. “He called me a (racial slur), that is something I do not take very kind to. I said something back and he got up and next thing you know I feel a punch in the back of my head.”
Since that day, the offender transferred to another school and Venezia has become a fan favorite at Hopewell wrestling matches.
“I’ve gone to doctors, gone to training and stuff like that to help control myself a little better,” he said. “Obviously I’m getting older as well, and maturing.”
But he refuses to let himself forget about the mental abuse he took as a kid. Not to feel sorry for himself, but to fuel his endeavors.
“That ultimately led to where I am today in my career because I used that,” he said. “Going into middle school is when I started taking my training more seriously. Getting picked on just helped trigger my motivation to get better and see who I am, and take it all out on the mat and ultimately be more successful.
“Getting picked on was always in the back of my head, now I’m just always focused and a really different person when I’m on the mat. I just love it. It’s almost like I’m glad those kids picked on me. If they didn’t pick on me I wouldn’t have that motivation. If I didn’t have that motivation I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
His motivation came from other sources as well. More specifically, from his family.
Venezia and his brother, Justin, both won county titles last year. Their father, Ron, was a high school wrestler in Pennsylvania and was a top-four finisher in the prep school nationals. He also competed for Villanova during the one season they had wrestling while he was there. Ron eventually became a coach for the Hopewell youth program.
“He’s the reason I’m here,” Venezia said. “He got me into it as a four-year-old and I just stuck with it. I tried other things along the way but wrestling just stuck with me, and I’m very glad I stuck with it.”
Venezia won a state match next year before being ousted, and considered the trip to Atlantic City a good learning tool.
“I had a tough road but it was a very good experience,” Venezia said. “I’m 100 percent ready to be back there again.”
Which is exactly what Harpel wants to hear.
“He went to states last year, and he’ll go back again this year if he wants to,” the coach said.
“He’s a real good kid; he’s great in the (wrestling) room. He’s one of our captains and he sets a good example He’s focused on his preparation the right way, so when he walks on to the mat he’s ready to compete at a certain level. He’s been wrestling a long time. He cares about it.”
On his college recruiting profile on ncsasports.org, Venezia noted that he is able to put something together just by looking at the finished product, and doesn’t need to read the instructions. He understands there are no such shortcuts in wrestling and that 100 percent effort must be put forth every day.
His desire to do just that will long be fueled by the cruelness he endured long ago.
“I’m really happy the way that I took that experience,” Venezia said. “I used my frustration from that in my training. But it’s not the kind of experience I want anyone to go through. It’s not fun.”
It is, however, motivation for a class kid with strong character and a tough mindset.