WOLCOTT — To diehard fans, football season is really never over. So to those fanatics, Saturday’s Naugatuck Valley League weightlifting championship at Wolcott High School was a major offseason milestone in preparation for next fall.
The insiders knew how the competition would end, though—for the fourth consecutive year, Wolcott easily out-pumped the rest of the league to win the NVL title. Woodland, after holding down the second-place position for most of the day, narrowly lost out to Holy Cross for runner-up and finished third.
Woodland football and weightlifting coach Tim Shea wasn’t discouraged, though, as the Hawks met their goal of lifting more than 12,000 pounds at the competition. Their 12,050-pound total was good enough for yet another top-three performance.
“In lifting, if you can hit [personal records] on everything, that’s all you can do,” Shea said. “You lift what you lift and you hope it’s good enough to place well.”
Many Black and Gold lifters did just that, including senior Mike Uszakiewicz, who won all three events—squat, bench press and power clean—in his weight class of 181-200 pounds en route to winning the NVL’s Most Outstanding Lifter award.
Uszakiewicz owned the competition by squatting 425 pounds before benching and power cleaning 300 pounds each. Junior Jack DeBiase was second on the team to Uszakiewicz in all three disciplines.
“This feels pretty good,” Uszakiewicz said. “It shows that hard work does pay off. Two weeks after the football season, I started and spend a lot of time bettering myself. I just dedicated myself.”
Senior Jim Hart also won the competition in the 220-and-over weight class. His squat of 530 pounds was second-best, but his bench of 310 and power clean of 300 were good enough to earn him the overall championship.
Senior Tyler Slapikas was the other Woodland lifter to win an award, capturing the power clean with a lift of 275 pounds in the 161-180 weight class. He also led the team’s weight class by squatting 330 pounds, while sophomore Matt Zaccagnini benched a team-best 240.
Shea, conditioning coach Adam Schultz, and the Hawks have always relied on the power clean to gain the most ground on other teams; their bench press numbers have never been strong, and squatting is “left open to interpretation, I’ll just say that,” according to Shea.
“We’ve always been weak in bench press, since we started, in 2002,” Shea said. “Power clean is the most technical lift. To me, it’s a better indicator of strength because you’re using your whole body. We still hold a lot of the league records and some state records. That’s what we’ve been good at for years. It’s the one we can teach.”
Shea hands over most control of the football team’s offseason weightlifting and conditioning program to Schultz, who breaks up the schedule into eight-week cycles with two-week breaks after football season and after the state lifting competition, which is Saturday.
“Adam Schultz does a great job with weightlifting for us,” Shea said. “He’s in charge of strength and conditioning for us because that’s what he does for a living. He tells me what we’re going to do and then does it.”
Those familiar with the weightlifting competition know there are several persistent arguments about various aspects of the sport. One is whether seniors should be allowed to lift in competition. Many league football coaches feel that weightlifting should be only for underclassmen preparing for the next season, while Shea and a few colleagues think senior participation is important.
“The schools around the league that are in the same boat of us think that the seniors have broken their butts for four years, so who are we to tell them they can’t lift in the competition?” Shea said. “We have a few kids who don’t even play football that lift with us. Those guys and the seniors do the same as the other guys, except they lift in the afternoon instead of our 6 a.m. practice.”
The other controversy—more of a matter of opinion—is how good an indicator of a football team’s prospects weightlifting is. Shea said he doesn’t have a firm opinion either way.
“I think every year you change your opinion,” he said. “It doesn’t win games. As much as I’d like it to, we all know it doesn’t work that way. If you look at the poundage over the last few years in the league, Seymour and Ansonia aren’t always right at the top, but they’ve done well in football. It’s a very good indicator—not perfect, but it’s a good indicator.”
Shea does think that participation in the weightlifting program is a very important part of the Woodland football program as a whole and helps make decisions about positions come spring and fall practice.
“Strength is a big part of what to do in the season,” Shea said. “A lot of the guys that play other sports during the year lift all year. We don’t get many kids that come to football that don’t come to lifting. It’s always been that way. A lot of what we do is at 6 a.m., and that alone shows you want to play for us. We like to think that we throw a lot at the kids in the offseason, and if you can handle this, you can handle anything.”