Each second that passed seemed like an eternity for Michael Macchiavello.
One wrong move and the championship he fought so hard to compete for would fade away. But with just 10 seconds remaining in the 197-pound championship match, North Carolina State’s Macchiavello secured a takedown to go up 3-1 against Virginia Tech’s Jared Haught. Time expired, and Macchiavello became a champion.
A product of Sun Valley High near Monroe, Macchiavello became just the second wrestler ever from North Carolina to win an NCAA Division I title. Just two months after his national championship victory, Macchiavello came to Mount Airy High School to help train the next generation of wrestlers to bring a title to Tar Heel state.
“I think it’s huge for the community,” said Mount Airy wrestling coach Cody Atkins. “Honestly I’m surprised he would come to a small town like Mount Airy, especially after winning nationals this year. Usually someone like that, it’s impossible to get them to come to your school.”
Athletes ranging from just six-years old to high-schoolers flocked to the Granite City for an opportunity at training under Macchiavello. Not only were local schools such as Surry Central, North Surry, and Elkin represented at Saturday’s clinic, but wrestlers from Virginia and Tennessee as well.
Atkins credited his assistant coach, Jacob Fregia, for getting Macchiavello to come to Mount Airy. Both Atkins and Fregia, as well as the Mount Airy wrestling community, worked tirelessly to put on the clinic to give young wrestlers an opportunity to learn from a national champion.
“This clinic is about getting the whole community into it and involving everyone in the area,” Atkins said. “I want it to benefit the sport of wrestling. We’re doing as much as we can to try and promote wrestling and give kids opportunities.”
Macchiavello worked with more than 40 wrestlers from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. He focused on teaching different techniques before working individually with the athletes to hone their craft. Atkins said wrestlers of all ages benefited from the training in different ways, due to the meticulous nature of the sport.
“There’s so much to technique when it comes to small things, and they make a huge difference,” Atkins said. “A small adjustment in technique is the difference in winning the state title individually or coming up short. Or even placing in states and not placing.”
One of the intangible skills Macchiavello tried to instill in the young men and women attending the clinic was confidence. In recalling his journey to a national championship, he told the audience that he couldn’t look for confidence somewhere else, but rather inside himself. It was this confidence that helped him conquer overwhelming odds.
Macchiavello’s victory in nationals surprised a lot of people. He finished 11-14 as a freshman at N.C. State and 9-8 his sophomore season. After redshirting his junior year, Macchiavello finished 10th in the nation.
He continued to improve his technique and even moved from the 184-pound weight class to the 197-pound class going into his senior season. Macchiavello only lost three times in his senior campaign, two of which came at the hands of his championship opponent, Haught.
Despite Macchiavello’s championship victory, North Carolina is still not known for producing exceptional wrestlers compared to states in the northeast. By exposing the sport to children at a younger age, Atkins hopes to begin closing the gap with states like Pennsylvania.
“A lot of times when they’re that young, it’s about making wrestling fun and still learning at the same time,” Atkins said. “As long as they’re having fun and picking things up here and there, by the time they get to middle school, they’re already going to know moves and they enjoy the sport.”
In many ways, wrestling in the state is already better than it was in decades past. Take Mount Airy High for example. The Granite Bears have posted state champions in seven different weight classes in just the past four years, Atkins said.
Macchiavello left the clinic participants with some parting advice before returning to Raleigh — aim high. He challenged those in attendance to think of their current goals and to go one step further. Macchiavello encouraged the wrestlers to compete with a chip on their shoulders to prove they’re just as good, if not better, than competitors from other states.
Atkins considered the clinic a success and hopes the athletes left the gym better off than before.
“There’s a lot of work that went into it, but I think it was well worth it,” Atkins said. “I appreciate all the help from coaches, high school, middle school, and clubs, for bringing kids out here, and Coach Fregia, Coach Bennett, and Coach Smith for helping get everything set up and ready.“
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith