Cameron Wertheimer seems a natural for the water. He’s a solid water polo player and describes waterskiing as his best sport. His great grandfather was an accomplished swimmer in his native Austria and another forebear was known for being able to hold his breath underwater for more than two minutes.
So when he entered the 7th grade at Horace Mann several years ago and was allowed to join a school team, he set aside his preference for the wrestling mat and headed for the pool. He lasted two days.
“Swimming is in the family, but one of the trainers talked me into wrestling, so I switched back,” said
Wertheimer, an Upper East Side native. “I just liked wrestling more. I thought it could be more satisfying, and I thought I could accomplish more. I think I made the right decision.”
Five years and 157 wins later, there’s little doubt it was the right decision.
“I taught him in 5th and 6th grade, and he was just manhandling people from an early age,” said Horace Mann head coach Gregg Quilty. “I was so excited to have him on the team in 7th grade. I owe a lot to those who led him back in this direction. I had a feeling he would have a pretty great career. He pretty much has all the tools you need: strength, quickness, perfect technique, endurance and balance as well.”
That career ended a couple of weekends ago with a victory in the 171-pound final of the private school state wrestling championships. It was Wertheimer’s second trophy from the tournament, but it’s only one award among the many he now owns. He also won Ivy League titles as a sophomore, junior and senior, and was a champion at the Mayor’s Cup—a competition featuring private, parochial and public schools from New York—for the last two seasons. His 157-26 career record makes him the school’s all-time wins leader. He passed the previous mark of 135 (set by 2008 graduate Jesse Caro) in January and has put the record out of reach for a while.
Wertheimer, characteristically, is overwhelmingly humble about his accomplishments.
“I know the numbers look good, but I don’t consider myself the greatest wrestler in Horace Mann history or even a great wrestler,” he said. “I’ve known kids in the program who I think could probably beat me.”
This is no case of false modesty. Wertheimer seems at pains to deflect attention and emphasize the accomplishments of teammates.
“He doesn’t really take himself too seriously,” Quilty said. “He has a very low-key attitude. He just looks like he’s having fun out there. He doesn’t get too upset or too uptight.”
In wrestling, there’s little room for arrogance because the next opponent is always lurking on the mat, ready to score an upset. At the Shoreline Tournament several weeks ago, for example, Wertheimer lost in the final, getting pinned quickly during the first round.
“We’ll call it a character-building experience,” he said with a laugh. “He walked right up to me and put me in a headlock. To be great … I have trouble saying that. I can think of many people who are better than me. And it’s about competition. Throw me against someone in Iowa, and they’ll rip my head off. I try to keep things in perspective.”
With Wertheimer and a stable of other top-notch grapplers, the Horace Mann wrestling squad has earned triumph after triumph in recent years. The Lions have won the private school state title eight out of the past nine years and finished fourth at Mayor’s Cup this winter.
Wertheimer burst onto the scene three years ago as a freshman, finishing a surprising 32-12 in his first season on the varsity team.
“It’s hard to explain why he’s so far ahead of everybody,” Quilty said. “The amazing thing is that most people who are starting four years are people who started out at a very low weight. Cameron did it the hard way. He started wrestling at 152, which means he faced mostly juniors and seniors. That experience made it easier for him when he was older, but it was tough for him those first few years.”
Still, Wertheimer doesn’t feel he become a very good wrestler until his junior year. That may just be his trademark modesty talking, but his record jumped to 46-2 (another school record) from 39-10 as a sophomore. And he also started winning a lot of tournaments. After grabbing only two titles in his first two years on varsity, he earned 14 as a junior and senior.
“It clicked. I think I just crossed a certain threshold,” he said. “I’d probably say it’s tactical. Our coach always says that after you’ve done a move a thousand times, it becomes automatic. So I think somewhere between sophomore and junior year I did my thousandth move and hit that point.”
The rest was history: two of the greatest years Horace Mann wrestling has ever seen and school records that likely won’t be broken anytime soon.
More Titles for Horace Mann—Wrestling hasn’t been the only successful team for the Lions this winter. Horace Mann also became Ivy League Championships in swimming several weeks ago, and its gymnastics squad triumphed among the Athletic Association of Independent Schools. Riverdale finished second in the girls’ swimming championships, behind Hackley.
The Fastest Kids in Manhattan—The Public Schools Athletic League’s Manhattan Indoor Track and Field Championships took place on Sunday and featured some strong performances from local athletes. In the sprints, Martin Luther King’s Vincent Asante won the 55 meters, while LaGuardia’s Darrell Gibbs took first in the 55 hurdles. LaGuardia also had winners in the high jump (Jamied Perez) and pole vault (Arthur Chen).
On the girls’ side, Nzingha Crusoe of Beacon triumphed in the 300 meters, but Hunter was the story of the meet. Emma Almon won the 1,000 meters, while Clio Sleater was first in two events. First, she beat the field in the 55 hurdles in a blazing 10.13 seconds. Then she triple-jumped 32 feet, eight inches to take home that trophy as well.
The Playoffs Begin—The Public School Athletic League Manhattan Borough Playoffs provided a forecast of the basketball action (Hunter, the only Uptown team, lost in the first round). But the excitement truly gets underway this week with the real event. On Thursday, the boys’ “A” Division bracket starts playing, with Hunter leading the way as the 12th seed. Other squads include Beacon and Julia Richman. In the “B” Division, Central Park East Secondary will host Bushwick and Graphic Communication Arts will play Foundations Academy.
The girls’ playoffs will feature a bunch of local squads. Hunter faces Martin Luther King in the first round, while Food and Finance is a favorite as the fourth seed. Other teams include Norman Thomas and LaGuardia.
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