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Community sports | Determined wrestler has ripened with age

When Palmetto resident Steve Contarino first started wrestling as a ninth-grader in New Jersey, he dreamed of one day winning gold medals on the world stage -- until a series of unlikely accidents and injuries halted his rise.

During high school, he was hit by a drunken driver and cut his leg with a circular saw. The two separate accidents, both freak occurrences, prevented him from wrestling in college and seemingly dashed his dream.

"I always wanted to be a world champion when I was a little kid," said Contarino, who has coached at Bayshore, Palmetto, Saint Stephen's and Lakewood Ranch high schools. "I figured I was done."

But at 41, Contarino returned to the ring. He began wrestling again competitively, and in the almost 20 years since -- Contarino will turn 61 later this year -- he's claimed four world bronze medals. This weekend, he took first place in Greco-Roman wrestling and second in freestyle in the 56-plus division at the Veteran's Nationals in Las Vegas. This summer, he'll go to Athens with the United States national team to compete at the world championships in the 61-65 division for Greco-Roman and freestyle.

"I played catch-up here for a lot of years," Contarino said. "I'm actually still getting better."

Travelball tourney

The Suncoast Travelball Championships honored its coaches with a tournament at Braden River and the Babe Ruth Complex, and a pair of local teams claimed championships. The Havoc, a team from Bradenton, blew out the Riverview Rockets 11-3 to win the 9U title at the Second Annual Coach's Appreciation Tournament and the Meteors, from Sarasota, beat United Baseball 3-2 to win in the 11/12U division.

Only two other championships were handed out with the FL Burn winning an 11-10 thriller against Sarasota Ascend in the 13U final and the Caloosa Cats blowing out Iron Pigs Navy 11-2 to win in 14U.

Middle schoolers compete

A week after IMG Academy hosted the state championship for high school lacrosse, the academy was hosting another, smaller state event. The Florida Youth Running Association Middle School State Championship came to IMG for the weekend, a showcase for young runners to get a chance on Florida's highest stage before high school.

There weren't any Manatee County schools competing -- the closest was Sarasota's Booker Middle School -- and Miami Gardens Xpress Track took home the team title with 93 points. Lauderdale Lakes Middle School finished second with 87 points, followed by Olympia Track Club with 48.

Faster than a ...

The Hulk isn't usually known for his speed, but on Saturday at Benderson Park he beat out more than 400 other heroes at the Super Hero 5K in Sarasota.

The Hulk's secret identity is Arthur Richardson, a 29-year-old who finished the race in 19:05. Not far behind was Vicky Vara, the 27-year-old female winner. She ran a 22:48 and finished 12 overall.

No word as to whether the Flash was in attendance.

David Wilson, prep sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7057 or via email at dwilson@bradenton.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DBWilson2.

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