Former state champs guide young wrestlers

Dustin Kawa sat in a classroom at N.C. State in the spring of 2004 pondering what he wanted to do after graduation.

The two-time ACC champion knew he wanted to be involved with wrestling, but wasn't sure how.

"With high school coaching there are too many limitations with who I can work with, the hours I work and the time frame I work," said Kawa.

So with high school coaching out of the picture, Kawa decided to start his own wrestling


He modeled his business after The Wrestling Center owned by Arturo Holmes, where Kawa went to train as a youth wrestler through high school.

Kawa then hired long-time friend Francois McDaniel, a two-time state champion from Parkview.

The duo planned to coach high school kids into state champions, but they were wrong.

"I came in thinking my main focus would be high school. I was completely off. It has completely shifted to youth. It's probably 70 percent youth, 30 percent high school," said Kawa, a three-time state champion from Shiloh and a seven-time kids state champion.

McDaniel is the head trainer and runs the practices at the Wrestling Academy located in the Sports Academy in


"(McDaniel) has a better ability to relate to the younger kids than most regular adults," Kawa said. "He really does. He has a gift for relating to kids and making sure they have fun."

"I think I can teach the kids to have a good time in the sport. I like to joke and play around," said McDaniel. "I'm a 25-year-old big kid and I just try to teach them to have a good time in the sport."

After high school, the right opportunity was not available for McDaniel to wrestle in college. The three-time high school All-American spent much of his time wrestling and winning open tournaments. McDaniel also was hired by parents to train their kids at their homes, but soon McDaniel realized he was not going anywhere with that.

"I just didn't see it going any further. I just had a passion for helping the kids out," said McDaniel. "Dustin came to me with his idea and it sounded perfect. I was like, 'That sounds great.' He's the owner and operator and I do the training. I was totally excited about doing it."

The duo have known each other for 19 years, having met at wrestling tournaments while Kawa was with the Stone Mountain Wrestling Club and McDaniel with the North Gwinnett Wrestling Club.

In just a year and a half of existence The Wrestling Academy has already achieved success. In its first year, the academy had 27 state placers and 13 state champions at the state youth tournament. That same year, the academy had 18 placers at the Dixie Nationals and one national champion. This year, there were 11 placers and one national champion at nationals.

"The main thing that separates our academy is that it's an advanced training center that has elite wrestlers, but we advise kids how to do things the right way," Kawa said. "We've been there, we've been part of the youth


While the academy mostly caters to youth wrestlers, high school wrestlers come to the academy for an extra practice, to cut weight or for extra


Kawa and McDaniel are close with several local high school coaches in the area. Kawa's former coaches at Shiloh, Steve Hassenger and Steve West, now coach at North Gwinnett and Grayson, respectively. McDaniel still keeps in touch with Dennis Stromie and Tom Beuglas at Parkview and Cliff Ramos at Collins Hill, where McDaniel was a two-time state


While Kawa's initial vision for the Wrestling Academy is not what he expected he couldn't be more pleased with how it has grown.

"The main thing is we've taken the step. We've wrestled at youth competively, we wrestled at high school competitively, we wrestled at the college level," Kawa said. "If that is your goal we can get you there."