While competing for last year’s Class 3A state runner-up team, Jake O’Mara watched and learned from the captains on Oak Park-River Forest’s wrestling team.
If he were given the chance to be a captain this season, O’Mara had one major plan he hoped try out in an attempt to create more team unity during his senior season.
That opportunity came before the season when O’Mara was named a captain, along with one of his best friends, senior Joe Ariola, and junior Davonte Mahomes. O’Mara and Ariola are the top seniors contributing for the Chicago Sun-Times’ No. 1-ranked Huskies.
To bring the team even closer, O’Mara instituted a once-a-week dinner outing for the Huskies. Early each week, O’Mara accepts nominations from his teammates on where the team should go out for dinner likely on a Friday or Saturday night. O’Mara said the conversations on bus rides home from meets have turned into heavy discussions about where the team should dine that week.
OPRF has already been to Famous Dave’s, Buffalo Wild Wings and Five Guys. At the end of the Huskies Invitational on Jan. 19, the team ate together in the tournament’s hospitality room after the competition ended with another OPRF tournament win. The Huskies try to visit a different restaurant each week and plan ahead in case they need reservations.
“We have a lot of fun,” O’Mara said. “There is no doubt about (well it works). I don’t know how to explain it. We’re a solid team.”
The idea came about after O’Mara watched last year’s captains, Sammy Brooks, Colin Rogers, Marq Brumant, Cameron Harris and Michael Woulfe, struggle at times to find ways to develop chemistry among teammates. OPRF wrestlers come from all different cultural and economic backgrounds, but getting along is integral to long-term success during the season.
Junior Malik Brumant, Marq’s younger brother, missed the season’s first team dinner outing organized by O’Mara, but hasn’t missed another one.
“(This way) we know each other a little bit more than just being teammates,” said Brumant, the team’s 220-pound wrestler.
Sophomore Adam Lemke-Bell’s favorite team meal was a trip to Famous Dave’s in North Riverside.
“We did well at a tournament and everyone was in a pretty good mood,” said Lemke-Bell, who wrestles at 285. “Everyone was hungry. We got some good food, there were good people; it was a fairly dynamic (atmosphere). Everyone was laughing and having a good time.”
O’Mara thinks the weekly dinners are working for the team.
“At the Clash (in Rochester, Minn.), you could look at our team jumping around,” O’Mara said of the December tournament. “It was a lot of fun. Last year, I didn’t feel like we worked (together) as a team as we are now.”
As another varsity newcomer, Lemke-Bell has appreciated what the weekly team meals have done to build camaraderie.
“I know what it’s like to be on a team,” said Lemke-Bell, who played football in the fall. “I didn’t know what to expect coming into this team. I love it. It has always been like family to me.”
Lemke-Bell said communication has improved since the captains like to hear from other teammates about where the team should go out to dinner. The decision is not made strictly by the captains.
“They are open to everyone’s ideas,” Lemke-Bell said. “If you have an idea, you are definitely permitted to speak your mind on what we should do.”