By RYAN T. BOYD
His older brothers tease him often.
What do you expect when you are the baby of the bunch?
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It’s called brotherly love, and it’s helped make Jesse Fulk, 12, a one-man gang on the wrestling mat.
He’s a third-generation wrestler. His grandfather, Bob, is a former wrestling coach who’s in the Illinois High School Hall of Fame, and this weekend is receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois High School Association. His father, Todd, was a grappler and now coaches the sport.
Jesse’s oldest brother, Andrew, won the Class 2A state wrestling crown last year for the Manatee Hurricanes, before taking his gifts to Duke. His other sibling, Travis, a Manatee sophomore, was a state qualifier the past two seasons.
Wrestling was his destiny.
“I’m nervous, because I always wonder if I’m going to be as good as them,” Jesse said.
The kid has a 52-12 record this season, and he did something his brothers couldn’t do.
Last week, Fulk, a sixth-grader at King Middle, captured a national title in the National High School Coaches Association national championships in Virginia Beach, Va. in the 90-pound elementary division.
He’d been in two national tournaments before and finished second. This time he pinned Darian Marshall of New York by fall in the 2:55 mark, and took down Damion Cantrell of North Carolina in 37 seconds to win the national title.
Andrew and Travis each participated in a national tournament. Each lost in overtime in the title match.
“Jesse broke what we called the ‘Fulk Family Curse’,” Todd Fulk said.
He participated in his first wrestling match at 3 when he attended one of Travis’ AAU tournaments, and he wrestled a four-year-old, who was at the tournament watching his older brother.
Fulk always attended his brothers’ meets. He wore a singlet, head gear, tiny wrestling shoes and quietly played with an action figure at every match. Fulk always asked questions about the moves his brothers were using. Today, he has more than 50 maneuvers in his arsenal.
“Andrew teaches me how to be more aggressive and have more tools in the toolbox” Fulk said. “Travis has taught me more top-and-bottom moves. He’s taught me things like the arm-bar series, and when you use those they are very hard to get out of.”
“We are pretty tight,” Travis said. “A lot of the kids his age don’t wrestle and don’t have a lot in common with him, so he hangs with us.”
It’s not easy being the youngest sibling.
There are plenty of days the older brothers take out their frustration on him on the mat, days Jesse has to holler “Momma!” for help.
But it’s brotherly love, and that’s what helped make him a national wrestling champion.
“I feel like I want to do better than them, “Fulk said. “My goal is to accomplish more than they did. I just want to be the best there is.”