Ethan Melendez grew up fighting.
Melendez is a senior on the Northeast High School wrestling team. His older brother Elias, also a wrestler, graduated Northeast in 2017.
The brothers are best friends, always have been. But like all brothers, they certainly got some extra practice among themselves.
“I always beat him, even when I was younger,” Melendez said of his older brother. “I’m wrestling at a higher weight, I’m at 133, he was always 120 or 126. But he was very good, and he taught me so much.
“He comes back all the time to help. Not just help me, helped the rest of the team. He helps us all a lot.”
So does the younger brother.
Melendez is 18-5 on the season, and his biggest win came on Wednesday when he defeated Central’s Jairo Gomez in 1:59 to help the Vikings knock off the Lancers 42-27 in the Public League championship. It was the third year in a row Northeast won the Public League crown.
“It was such a big win because this was a threepeat for us, first time Northeast has ever done that, I think,” said Melendez, whose team was trailing 21-9 when he took the mat. “I got a pin in the first period and after that I tried to fire everyone up. I knew we needed a big win. It was important to me because now I was on the team for three championships. We lost to Central when I was in ninth grade, but I didn’t wrestle because I had a concussion. I wanted another chance to wrestle in the championship and I got three.
“Every championship was great. Sophomore year was the COVID year, so that was different. It was hard. But we did what we had to do. Last year, we had a great team and this year we had a great team, so I’m really proud of what we did. A threepeat is very important.”
Also securing wins for Northeast were Muhammad Farooq, Aljhuri Jamil, Nasir Rahming, Thomas Jennings, Adam Farahat, Firdavs Kadirov and Deshawn Woodhouse.
For Melendez, winning championships are great, but accomplishing it in wrestling means so much more.
He started his athletic career running track during the spring, but last year he switched to lacrosse and really enjoys that. He also competes in Muay thai, working out with top athletes in the area.
He loves all of those sports, and finds great satisfaction in performing well in them, but wrestling is by far his favorite.
“I’ve always liked wrestling the best,” said Melendez, who dedicated the win to former Northeast wrestler Emmanuel Santana, who recently passed away. “I liked it at first because my brother used to wrestle and I was always competitive with him. I always wanted to be better than him. But I love it now because it’s the toughest sport you can compete in. You should see how hard this team works. That’s how you win in wrestling. You have to outwork your opponent. You have to be smart, you have to be strong and athletic. It’s the best sport there is.
“Honestly, I love the competition, I love the feeling when I’m wrestling, I put in all the hard work, when I succeed, you get to the podium with a gold medal, it’s the best feeling. Nothing else is like wrestling.”
Because of his love for wrestling, Melendez did everything he could to make sure he would be ready for a productive wrestling career.
It was harder because during his formative years, it was hard to find places to work out with other wrestlers because of the worldwide pandemic.
Melendez went searching for the top places to work out and he credits that work with the success he enjoyed this year and in previous seasons.
“I wrestled for Beat the Streets, and I wrestled for Apache,” said Melendez, who wants to wrestle in college next year, but is unsure about what he’ll study. “I tried to wrestle with the top clubs. I found places that had great wrestlers, state winners and state place winners. I wanted to roll around the mats with the best. I don’t look at it as losing, I look at it as getting better.”
And as proud as Melendez was of his team, he was just as thankful to his other team, his family.
“I couldn’t have done any of this without them,” Melendez said. “They support me every possible way. They go to the matches, they cheer, they help me with meal prep, they help me make weight and they make sure I get to where I have to be. I couldn’t have done it without them.”