Kennard-Dale High School graduate, U.S. Olympian is Male Marine Corps Athlete of the Year

STEVE HEISER
717-505-5446/@ydsports
John Stefanowicz

John Stefanowicz has come a long way from his days at Kennard-Dale High School.

The York County product never made a PIAA Wrestling Tournament during his time with the Rams. When he was a senior, he was 5 feet, 3 inches tall and weighed 125 pounds.

At that point, he gave up wrestling and joined the United States Marine Corps in 2009. In 2011, after a significant growth spurt, he took up the sport again and his wrestling career took a dramatic turn for the better.

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He eventually gained nearly 70 pounds and became the first Marine in 30 years to represent the United States in wrestling at the Olympic Games, participating in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games, which were actually held in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

United States' John Walter Stefanowicz, right, competes against Croatia's Ivan Huklek during the men's 87kg Greco-Roman wrestling match at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Chiba, Japan. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

That achievement earned Stefanowicz the Male Marine Corps Athlete of the Year honor. Stefanowicz is a staff sergeant and is currently assigned as the senior combative instructor, Marine Detachment, at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

A news release from the Marine Corps stated that “Stefanowicz exemplified the Warrior Ethos and Whole Marine Concept throughout 2021. From seeking continuous self-improvement to the betterment of Marines in his charge, his command influence was pivotal in the success of the All-Marine Wrestling team in 2021 producing six U.S. National Team members, which is more than half of the weight classes.”

More:Kennard-Dale grad John Stefanowicz reflects on 'frustrating' Olympic wrestling loss

During the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for the Tokyo Games, Stefanowicz elected to move up a weight category. The International Olympic Committee had condensed each country’s available number of Olympic positions from 10 to six in the Greco-Roman class, with only one athlete per weight class. In Greco-Roman wrestling, only upper-body moves are permitted. Stefanowicz moved up to the 191-pound weight class. His road to the Olympics in the U.S. Trials saw him win six straight matches, defeating the first-, second- and fourth-seeded opponents.

At the Tokyo Games, Stefanowicz finished in 12th place. He suffered a 5-3 loss to Croatia’s Ivan Huklek in his opening-round match. That turned out to be his only match of the Olympics.

Nevertheless, he accomplished what no Marine has in more than 40 years: Becoming an Olympian, a two-time Pan-American Champion, an Armed Forces Championships double gold medalist and ranked No. 1 in both the nation and Western Hemisphere.

As for his future, Stefanowicz made the following statement after his Olympic loss:

“My goal here is to do my best and bring my craft back to the states and improve the next squad. Whatever I do, all I need is a little bit more. So I’m going to do everything in my power for the next three years to do that, whether it means I’m still able to compete, or whether it means I’m sculpting the next person to take over and get on the podium. It’s going to be what it’s going to be and I’m going to be there for it.”

Reach Steve Heiser at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @ydsports.