Ithaca wrestling had not had a Section IV champion since 2017 until an eighth-grader, Danny Parker, ended the drought on Feb. 15. Parker was the top seed at the Section IV Division I Championships and won two matches after receiving a first-round bye to punch his ticket to the state championships.
Parker, the son of Ithaca wrestling coach Eric Parker, is now 29-10 this season with 16 pins heading into states. His results this season blow away his relatively modest goals from the beginning of the year.
“My goal this season, being an eighth grader, was to have a .500 record,” Parker said. “I wanted to win more than half my matches. To come out with my hand raised in the finals match was a great feeling.”
Parker was not supposed to have a first-round bye, but circumstances led to him being the top seed in the tournament. That cirumstance was Chase Daudelin, a friend of Parker’s from Corning, missing the 126-pound weight limit and being forced to wrestle at 138 pounds, where he ended up winning the tournament. After a first-round bye, Parker faced a familiar foe from Binghamton.
“I wrestled Constantine [Gehring], who I had wrestled in the beginning of the year,” Parker said. “That was a really good match, better than our one from earlier in the season.”
The first time they faced off, Parker needed less than two minutes to pin Gehring. This time, it was a tightly contested 8-6 decision. Next up for the eighth-grader was Chenango Forks junior Cooper Rice, who had an impressive 31-7 record heading into the match. After struggling in the first two periods, Parker came away with an 11-7 decision to win the Section IV tournament.
Not only is Parker the lone wrestler from Ithaca heading to the state championships, but he’s also the only one from Tompkins County. Groton’s Kyle Willard and Dryden’s Bobby Brotherton both fell in the Section IV finals. Parker discussed his expectations for the state tournament.
“Being that I’m in eighth grade, I don’t have that many seeding points, so I’ll probably be the 15th or 16th seed,” he said. “So, I’m either going to get the one or two seed in the first round. I always wrestle bad my first match, so I need to get a good warm-up to get ready for the first match. The goal is to place this year. Next year, it’s to win it.”
Those may seem like lofty goals for someone who isn’t in high school yet, but Parker has been around wrestling all his life.
“My dad [Eric Parker], he was a wrestler,” Parker said. “He’s been a wrestling coach at Ithaca for I don’t even know how long. [I remember] being in the room with all the older guys and seeing them compete, wrestling peewee with Ryan Ciotoli at Team Bombsquad, then moving on to wrestling with Jimmy Overhiser my coach. It just keeps the sport fun.”
From looking up to older wrestlers to being named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the Section IV tournament, Parker has grown plenty. With four more years at the varsity level left, there’s plenty of time for him to rack up more accolades.
“It’s really fun to look at myself now and see that in the next couple years I’ll be competing for state championships,” Parker said. “I just have to keep the pace that I’m at now.”
In Parker’s mind, the key contributing factor to his success (aside from coaching) has been his athleticism. He is a multi-sport athlete, and it all helps him on the wrestling mat.
“I’ve played sports up and down the chart,” Parker said. “I’ve done basketball, football, lacrosse, baseball, soccer, everything. Everything revolves around wrestling. Any position you get in in football, it all revolves around wrestling. Building up speed, strength, agility. They’re all skills that help me improve my all-around performance in every sport.”
While football is his favorite sport to play, wrestling is where Parker excels and where he’s shown the most improvement.
“Growing up, I’ve always been fast and strong and I have to keep building on that,” Parker said. “With my coaches, my technique has gotten so much better over the years wrestling with Ryan [Ciotoli] and wrestling with Jimmy [Overhiser]. All of these coaches helping throughout the process [helped me improve].”
Parker’s success is a great sign for a struggling Ithaca wrestling program. The team did not record a victory in a dual meet this season and has had difficulty building a successful program. Parker believes the potential is there in Ithaca.
“We have a pretty small team as everyone knows,” Parker said. “Next year, we need to get more kids out and get wrestling bigger and back in Ithaca. We have the coaches. We have the facilities. We have everything we need. We just need more kids.”
For now, though, Parker will be the Little Red’s lone representative during the final weekend of the season. He’ll be making the trip to Albany’s Times Union Center for the two-day championships beginning on Friday, Feb. 28.
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