BY HANNAH LETTIERI AND CHARLOTTE MACKEN
It’s a chilly December afternoon when we enter the hot, sticky wrestling room at Shenendehowa High School East. The bass of an 80s rock song shakes the room. The wrestlers are doing sprints across the room, yelling motivational phrases at each other, pushing one another to run as hard and fast as they can. Captain Kiernan Shanahan leads the charges, passing everyone, yelling the loudest. “Come on, guys, you got this! Keep pushing!”
It’s the practice before the first match of the season. Excitement and anxiety fill the room. Everyone knows that the way they start the season could dictate how their other rivals will view them for the rest of the season. Head varsity coach Robert Weeks leans against the wall, watching as his athletes push themselves to be the best they can, a hint of pride beaming in his eyes.
When every wrestler finishes their sprints. Shanahan leads them to the middle of the room for “break down.” “One, two, three, Shen!” They shout in unison. It’s silent, besides the heavy breathing as each athlete tries to catch their breath in order to take a desperate sip of water. Weeks gives the crowd a short pep talk before dismissing them to the showers.
Weeks himself was a high school standout wrestler: he stood atop the Section II championship podium in 1987 for Queensbury High School with 99 victories (“it should’ve been 100, but it wasn’t”) and has watched as his wrestlers took the same spot 52 times since he began coaching at Shenendehowa in 1997.
Prior to working at Shen, he attended and wrestled for Springfield College in Springfield, Mass. Upon graduating with a degree in administration and education, Weeks returned to his alma mater as an assistant wrestling coach. He made one more stop in his coaching career before coming to Shen: Hadley-Luzerne/Lake George. In 1997 Weeks departed from Hadley-Luzerne/Lake George, came back to the Capital Region, and accepted the job of junior varsity wrestling coach, before being promoted to varsity in 1998.
During his 20 years at Shen, he’s coached 52 Section II champions, nine state champions, and four New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) state championship teams.
When asked how someone would describe him, Weeks responded with a smirk, “likeable, I guess.”
Former wrestler Gabriel Cruz, whose wrestling career ended earlier than he would have liked due to a string of shoulder injuries, gushed about his former coach.
“I love him. I miss his personality,” he said. This year’s wrestling team–junior varsity and varsity–includes 47 athletes, one of the highest numbers in recent years. 2016 saw the graduation of 10 varsity starters–including two-time state champion Kevin Parker. Weeks’ plan for this years team is “to win,” he said.
“Winning” and “Shen wrestling” are synonymous. The Plainsmen captured the Suburban Council Blue Division Championship title 10 years in a row, and the Section II Championship title 11 years in a row. The streak ended the 2016-17 season; after losing talent from the class of 2016, the team fell to long-time foes Ballston Spa,who took home the Suburban Council title, and Queensbury,who seized the Section title.
“This year’s team is a good group of kids–a good group of athletes,” said Weeks.
Weeks’ goal is to take the team back to the top. Kiernan Shanahan was the 2017 NYSPHSAA runner up at 145 pounds, losing 7-2 in the finals to Frankie Gissendanner of Penfield. Despite the decline in interest in the sport, Weeks believes this team “has what it takes to win.”
The team has already captured a league win, with a 72-6 win over Schenectady in the home opener on December 6, which included pins by Shen’s Seamus Leavey (freshman, 132 pounds) and Michael Smolovik (senior, 145 pounds), along with taking home the second place trophy at the 55 Annual Clyde Cole Invitational Tournament at the beginning of December, where 13 Shen wrestlers stood on the podium.
Weeks isn’t letting the early success get to his head–or the team’s. His mantra: “Practice like you wrestle, wrestle like you practice.”
Aside from being a wrestling coach, he is also a physical education teacher and assistant athletic director at Shen. He lives with his family, including his wife and four children. They live in a log home in Ballston Spa with some chickens, Weeks said.
His youngest son is a wrestler for the Ballston Spa youth wrestling program. Pictures and newspaper clippings of all his children’s highlights are abundant on the walls of his office.
Despite his long and distinguished career, Weeks’ favorite things in the wrestling room aren’t the awards and accolades of twenty years of coaching; his favorite things are the reminders of his family.