Woodbine resident Kyle Snyder, who won a world championship in Freestyle wrestling on Sept. 11 in Las Vegas, spoke at his former school, Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, in Olney on Wednesday.
OLNEY — The students at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School are in the midst of Spirit Week, and Wednesday morning they came to school decked in red, white, and blue.
Then they filed into the Kane Center gymnasium, more than 1,200 strong, and waited for one of their more famous former athletes to speak. Fitting that Kyle Snyder, a Woodbine resident, came to visit and be recognized for his recent achievements as a member of the USA wrestling team.
Snyder, 19, is the youngest world champion in US men's freestyle wrestling history following his gold medal at the 2015 World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada. Snyder won five matches Sept. 11, capping his performance with a victory over Russia's Abdusalam Gadisov in the 97-kilogram (213 pounds) final.
Gadisov was the reigning world champion before Snyder topped him on criteria in a 5-5 match (he had more takedowns that Gadisov during the bout).
Good Counsel's student body and many school officials watched a replay of the championship bout's final period while Snyder and his family sat in folding chairs on the gym floor, in the front row. When Good Counsel wrestling coach Skylar Saar introduced Snyder, those in attendance gave him the first of three standing ovations.
They rose again after Snyder's speech, which focused on his high school experiences. And once more when vice principal Chuck Ehrman was presented him with an honorary diploma from Good Counsel, given Snyder left school early, in 2013, for the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado.
All along, Snyder's dream has been to represent his country at the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. And he took a big step toward realizing that dream with his world title two weeks ago, but Snyder may have been just as nervous speaking to a throng of supporters at his high school.
"It was a lot of fun talking to them," said Snyder, moments after some of the remaining students serenaded him with "USA! USA!" chants.
"And hopefully I said something that they liked to hear. Good Counsel is a great school. I had a great time here. I met some of my best friends here, and I'm still in contact with a lot of people."
Like Saar, who said he was in Las Vegas to watch Snyder wrestle — and beat — the best in the world.
Snyder defeated Pablo Oliinik of Urkaine, a bronze medalist in 2013, 2-1 in the first round, and took down Poland's Radoslaw Baran, ranked No. 8 in the world, 8-0 in the second round.
An 11-1 rout against Venezuela's Jose Diaz, the bronze medalist at the Pan American Games, came next in the quarterfinals, and Snyder outlasted Iran's Abbas Tahan 6-3 in the semifinals.
Saar, who coached Snyder to a 179-0 record in three varsity seasons at Good Counsel, has had his share of big moments with his big grappler.
Wednesday's was the latest.
"It turned out great. He's away so much, it's nice to have him when he comes back," Saar said. "It was very special being out with him in Vegas, and then having the opportunity to recognize that accomplishment is pretty cool."
Saar told the student body he recalled Snyder's password for his cellphone being "2016" a few years ago, because Snyder wanted a reminder that his desired goal was qualifying for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio. Snyder joked during the assembly that he'll need to be more guarded with his phone, but he has been quite serious about his Olympic pursuit.
Last year, Snyder helped Ohio State win its first team national championship by going 30-4 as a freshman and placing second at the NCAA championships at 197 pounds. He decided in the summer to leave Ohio State to train for the Olympics, which meant competing in top-notch international tournaments.
Snyder claimed a gold medal at the Pan Am Games. And a US Open title, highlighted by a victory over two-time NCAA champ Jake Varner, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist, in the finals.
And now the world championship, for which Snyder was honored at his former high school.
"It was an incredible experience," he said. "People keep asking me, how did it feel after the match? And I tell them, like, 'Cool,' and 'Good.' But it doesn't really sum up how it actually felt. I don't really have any words for it.