Wrestling academy moves into former Apollo restaurant site in Albion

Photos by Tom Rivers: Kids in the Purple Eagles Wrestling Academy practice stances, takedowns and other wrestling moves on Wednesday evening at the Purple Eagles Wrestling Academy. There are 71 wrestlers in the program from age 4 to seventh- and eighth grade.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 November 2022 at 9:16 am

ALBION – The former Apollo restaurant on Route 31 has a new purpose: the training site for a growing number of young wrestlers.

The Purple Eagles Wrestling Academy received its certificate of occupancy on Monday to run wrestling programs at the former Apollo at 13939 NY 31. The academy will have open houses today and Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m.

The academy already has 71 wrestlers in the program, including 15 girls. It is open to wrestlers from age 4 right through high school. Right now the oldest kids in the program are seventh- and eighth-graders.

Girls wrestling is also an emerging sport with several colleges running programs for female wrestlers. Sanders expects it will be offered in the not-so-distance future at Albion. The wrestling academy will help to get girls ready so Albion can field a competitive team.

Some of the wrestlers in the academy gather for a photo on Wednesday evening. The coaches pictured include Jared Moreland, front left; Mike Sanders, back left; Kyle Piccirilli, front right; and Jeff Lutes, back right. B.J. Aina and Brian Schomske also volunteer as coaches with the program. The wrestling mat used to be owned by the Albion school district for its wrestling program. It was purchased by the Wrestling Academy when the school got a new mat.

Mike Sanders pushed to start the wrestling academy four years ago. The first season there were 44 wrestlers and they used Cafeteria B in the high school. Twice a week, Sanders and the volunteers moved 90 chairs and 15 tables to set up for practices. The season was abruptly cut short because of Covid-19 restrictions in mid-March 2020.

The second year, the program was based out of Sanders’ garage. He had 35 wrestlers in the academy, coming to his garage from Monday through Friday for training.

Last year, in the third season, the program shifted to the Pratt Theater on Main Street with 60 wrestlers.

Sanders said the program is grateful for its new home. It has two large open rooms with mats, lockers for the wrestlers and a big opportunity to grow. The building is owned by Rick Stacey. It was last operated as the Apollo about two decades ago.

The former Apollo on Route 31 is owned by Rick Stacey. He has renovated the site and given it a much different look.

The location gives the program a place year-round. Sanders said there will be wrestling camps and clinics as well as practices.

“We can make our own schedule,” he said. “At the school we were limited to two days.”

The academy will be available for training Monday through Thursday, with live wrestling on Friday.

It costs $50 a month to be in the academy or $200 for the five-month season from November through March. The facility will be available year-round.

The Purple Eagles Wrestling Academy is a non-profit organization. Sanders is president/treasurer and Moreland is vice president/financial advisor. Brian Schomske is secretary/financial advisor. Ashley Sanders is the team coordinator, with Jennifer Moreland the parent liaison, Cassie Schomske the fundraising manager and Justin Mengs, Rocky Sidari and Zach Gillette as at-large members.

Mike Sanders gives instructions to the young wrestlers. Sanders is a former Section VI champ for Albion in 2004 at 130 pounds. He is the varsity coach at Albion this year.

Sanders, 36, won the Section 6 wrestling title in 2004 in the 130-pound weight class. He returned to the area as an English teacher four years ago. He and his wife Ashley have four children.

Sanders went to Gannon and was an All-American wrestler in the 133-pound class. After graduation he taught and coached for five years in Florida and then five years in Virginia before coming home to Albion in 2018. He works in the Albion Middle School.

Sanders said the skills he learned in wrestling, especially the mental approach, have been critical in his life. He wants to share that knowledge with a new generation.

“I want to give back to them,” Sanders said. “It’s mental skills and controlling your emotions. It’s showing up every day and facing challenges.”

Sanders is serving as the Albion varsity wrestling coach for the first time this season, after four years as the assistant coach. He knows the youth wrestling program is a key to building a strong high school program.

When he was a kid, he wrestled in youth programs in Kendall and Holley. The Purple Eagles Wrestling Academy is open to young wrestlers outside of Albion, too. Sanders wants to grow the sport locally, and repay the welcome he received from Kendall and Holley.

These wrestlers get in a cool-down run around one of the big mats. There are two large rooms for training.

The wrestling academy will compete in tournaments in 14 different weight classes through the Niagara Frontier Youth Wrestling League. That competitive team will be called the Purple Eagle Wrestling Academy Team Gold Force. That name is a tribute to the Gold Force Wrestling Club that was led by Hall of Fame coach John Grillo in Holley.

Sanders is assisted in running the program by coaches Jared Moreland, Kyle Piccirilli, Jeff Lutes, B.J. Aina and Brian Schomske.

Moreland is also a sectional champ from when he was at wrestling powerhouse Spencerport. He wrestled at 119 pounds. He is now a sergeant at the Orleans Correctional Facility. Like Sanders, he wants to give back to the sport of wrestling.

“Wrestling is a sport unlike any other in high school,” Moreland said. “It takes a lot of sacrifice and discipline.”

Moreland said the wrestling academy will help other Albion sports programs. He expects to see the wrestlers playing on the football, basketball, baseball, track and other sports teams.

“It will help them to be a gritty tough kid who can handle a challenge,” Moreland said.

For more information on the academy, click here.