Long before he became one of the state’s best wrestlers at his age, Joey Melendez always wanted to be No. 1.
The 14-year-old Norridge resident’s competitiveness was evident when he competed in youth sports, completed his schoolwork and played video games with his brother, according to his dad, Joe Melendez.
“He’s got to be the best,” Joe Melendez said. “He’s got to win. It’s just the way he is.”
So when it came time to pick a high school, Montini was a natural destination. The Broncos are arguably the state’s best wrestling program, having won seven straight state team titles. In addition, Joey Melendez trains with Izzy Style, a high-level program run by Montini coach Izzy Martinez. Joey Melendez learned about the school’s athletic and academic reputation through coaches at Izzy Style who also coach at Montini, like his coach Tony Marti.
“I think it was last year, when I realized how good of a program there was there [at Montini],” said Joey Melendez, a freshman-to-be.
Skill and the willingness to work are keys to cracking Montini’s varsity lineup, and Joey Melendez has proved he has both in recent years.
He’s steadily reached new heights in the sport since dedicating himself to it when he was 10. Joey Melendez stopped wanting to play baseball at about that age, opting for offseason wrestling instead. That decision helped Joey Melendez go from pretty good to elite, Joe Melendez said. Joey Melendez won several Greco Roman state titles and finished second at the IKWF (Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation) state championships in 2012 and 2013.
Joey Melendez’s breakthrough at the IKWF state tournament came this year when he pinned Anthony Turner in 26 seconds to win the state championship at 79 pounds. Turner beat Joey Melendez in overtime to win a state championship in 2012.
“That was probably the best moment of my life — or one of them — because it’s what I worked so hard for,” Joey Melendez said “It finally happened.”
The big question for him, at this point, is when he’ll be able to be part of the Broncos’ varsity squad.
Joey Melendez currently weighs just 93 pounds, he said, which is 13 pounds below the lightest weight class in IHSA wrestling. Joe Melendez said his son hasn’t had the growth spurt most teenage boys have when they’re 14.
For Martinez, a major point of emphasis between now and the start of the high school season will be getting Joey Melendez mentally ready for what it’s like to wrestle against opponents who are 16-18 years old.
“He’s just got to understand there’s a different mentality; understand that these guys are a little more hungry,” Martinez said. “We’ve got to make sure he sticks to the game plan and just matures before he gets to high school.”
Because in high school, those boys take your arms and your legs home with them after matches if you allow them.”