Wrestler’s passion setting a precedent for Clawson High

By: Alex Tekip | Royal Oak Review | Published February 17, 2016

 Katlyn Pizzo cheers on her teammates during a Division 3 district final against Michigan Collegiate.

Katlyn Pizzo cheers on her teammates during a Division 3 district final against Michigan Collegiate.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


CLAWSON — Katlyn Pizzo comes from a family of wrestlers, but she never thought she’d be one herself.

Her older brothers, Anthony and Joe, both wrestled for Clawson High. Her younger brother, Michael, wrestles as well. She said her interest in the sport stemmed from joining Michael in trying out a club team.

“My two older brothers wrestle, and then my little brother was gonna do a club team, and so my dad asked me if I wanted to try it,” she said. “I was like, ‘Well, sure, I guess I’ll try,’ but I was dead set on not wrestling for the school, and then school season came around and he’s like, ‘Why don’t you just give it a shot? You don’t have to do it if you don’t like it after this year.’”

She did try it, and she was pretty good.

“So I just kinda kept with it and the love grew,” Pizzo said.

Pizzo’s love for wrestling is reflected in her ability. With a record of 42-4 this season, the junior is expected to contend for a Division 3 state title. She will compete in a Division 3 individual regional at Richmond High on Feb. 20.

“She’s probably one of the fiercest competitors there is,” said Clawson coach Terry Downs.

Pizzo was the lightweight Most Valuable Player at the Warren Fitzgerald tournament on Jan. 2.  As she gains recognition within the Macomb Area Conference and beyond, opponents are beginning to take notice.

“The (opposing wrestlers) that don’t know me overlook me, then they kind of realize that I’m not to be overlooked.”

“They think they’re gonna go out there and muscle her and everything else, and she’s fast and pretty brutal,” said Downs.

Pizzo has experienced some struggles as a member of a small company of female wrestlers in the area. Downs said some opponents have elected not to wrestle against her due to fear or religious reasons.

She said she isn’t phased by those who choose not to wrestle her, focusing instead on the positives: one of which is being a mentor to younger girls interested in wrestling. Pizzo said she realizes she is a role model, but didn’t join Clawson’s team to break barriers. She joined simply because she had a passion for the sport.

“I’m willing to talk to them, but that’s not the prime reason I do it,” she said. “I do it because of my love for the sport, but I know that some younger girls look up to me and I have to make sure I’m behaving correctly and working hard ’cause whenever they’re looking up, I want to make sure that I’m setting a good example for them.”

When Pizzo isn’t busy with wrestling or running track or cross country for Clawson High, she wrestles for Team Michigan, an all-girls wrestling club that participates in national tournaments.

Katlyn’s mom, Lisa, said her daughter’s dedication to wrestling and understanding of right versus wrong are setting a strong example for others.

“I think she’s actually a very good role model both on the mat and off the mat,” said Lisa Pizzo. “She acts a certain way. She just portrays herself as a well-rounded athlete and doesn’t get into all this stuff she shouldn’t be into, you know.”

Part of the reason Katlyn excels at wrestling, in addition to her attitude and work ethic, can be attributed to her supportive teammates.

“It’s pretty funny,” she said. “They’ve gotten to the point where they’re like brothers to me now and they make fun of me, but they’ll also protect me.”

Katlyn said her teammates have gone so far as to give her advice on how to deal with boys. In return, she offers advice on girls and life in general.

Michael Pizzo, an eighth-grader at Clawson Middle School, attends practice with the varsity team. He currently wrestles for the middle school squad and wants to continue with the sport in high school. He said he trains with Katlyn to prepare himself for high school wrestling.

“When I first started out wrestling, I wrestled her a lot and got my butt kicked, so I always strive to be as good as her and not get my butt kicked by her so much,” he said. “Even when I do bad, she’ll tell me what I did and actually help me strive to do better.”

Michael Pizzo said practicing against his sister is a fun learning experience, but watching her from the stands is a fun, but nervous, experience.

“When it’s my brothers, we’re usually a lot calmer because, like, we’re not as afraid of them getting hurt like she is, because she’s gotten hurt in cross country and that put her out for a while, so we just want her to say safe,” he said.

Lisa Pizzo said she also gets worried about her daughter suffering an injury during a match, but enjoys watching her succeed, even if the process raises her blood pressure.

“It’s a little stressful,” she said. “It’s awesome. She’s doing really good. She’s got a lot of skill, and it’s kind of fun to watch her beat up on the boys.”

Katlyn doesn’t have nearly as many worries when it comes to wrestling against male opponents. In fact, she welcomes the challenge with a wide grin.

“It’s pretty fun, I’m not gonna lie,” she said.

“You know, it’s something that she has a love for and she really wants to do it,” said Lisa Pizzo. “She’s not out there to make a statement. She does it cause she loves the sport, so we just support her in it.”

Katlyn is one of five Clawson wrestlers who will compete in the Division 3 individual regional at Richmond. Jake Bussey, Max Sandzik, Michael Jabboori and Brendan Downs, who notched his 150th career win during individual districts on Feb. 13, also advanced to the next round of postseason competition.

Clawson was eliminated from team postseason contention after a loss to Michigan Collegiate in district finals on Feb. 11.

Royal Oak High lost a Division 1 team district semifinal to Southfield High, also on Feb. 11.