Wins second straight; solid all-around athlete at 8
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Ask the latest state wrestling champion from Kearny how he wants to be known and he honestly doesn’t know.
He’s known as James Mullen to his third grade teachers at Garfield School. The principal has announced his name over the school’s public address speakers as both James and Jimmy. His friends call him Jimmy as well.
But the soon-to-be 9-year-old two-time state wrestling champion is maturing now.
“You can call me Jim,” he said.
So there it is, Jim Mullen, state wrestling champion, right here from Kearny.
It’s not often Kearny can brag about having a wrestling champion. After all, when David Cordoba won the NJSIAA state title, becoming the first and only Kearny High grappler to earn a state crown, it was 1999. Jim Mullen wasn’t even born yet.
But Mullen, who only turns nine this week, can lay claim to having won two New Jersey Wrestling Kids Scholastic State championships, after he won his second by taking the Bantam Heavyweight crown last Saturday at Union High School.
Mullen, with his floppy, curly blond hair and acting much more mature than his age, recalled the feeling of standing atop the podium as a state champion once again.
“It was awesome and amazing,” Mullen said. “I was sixth when I was six, but then I took first in the state at age seven.”
So how does a young kid get so proficient at a sport at an early age?
“I don’t know,” Mullen said. It all started innocently for Mullen. A well-rounded athlete who plays baseball, basketball and football in Kearny Recreation programs, went one day to see his cousin, Jose Sanchez, wrestle in the Kearny Rec program.
“When I watched it, I knew I liked it,” Mullen said. “One day, I practiced with my cousin and I wanted to try it. I started liking it a lot.”
So at age 5, Mullen gave wrestling a try.
“I didn’t know all the moves, but I wanted to learn.”
His father, Jim Mullen Sr., who is active in coaching different sports in Kearny, remembers his son’s first tournament.
“It was at Queen of Peace,” the elder Mullen said. “He lost two in a row, so I sat him down and gave him a heartfelt speech. After I was done, he said, `Dad, can I get Dippin’ Dots now?’ I thought he was going to be upset that he lost, but he said, ‘It’s just for fun, right?’ I didn’t know if wrestling was going to be his sport.”
But Jim Mullen liked the sport so much that he went to practice with the Kearny Rec program at least four times a week. Because of his size, Mullen is constantly wrestling with kids older and bigger, which definitely helps come time to compete in statewide tournaments.
“Usually, the kids I practice with have been wrestling for a long time,” Mullen said. “That’s how I get better. I have no fear going up against the older kids. I love the sport. I can’t get enough of it.”
Because Mullen is a largersized kid, he has to maintain his weight in order to reach the 95-pound weight limit. So Mullen has a strict diet.
“I eat apples and drink a lot of water,” Mullen said. “I eat oranges. I do a lot of push-ups and sit-ups to help me lose weight. It is a little disturbing that I have to do it, but it’s just part of the sacrifice of the sport.”
Mullen already has a goal in mind.
“I want to wrestle for Kearny High School,” he says.
That news has to make Kearny wrestling coach Tony Carratura very happy, although Mullen has five more years of grade school before Carratura gets a chance to work with him.
Mullen was asked what his favorite wrestling move was.
“I like head locks,” Mullen said. “I get points by being on top. I wrestle older kids that are strong, so I have to use head locks.”
Mullen is also a fine football player. He was the quarterback on the Kearny Generals team that had its best season in 22 years. He plays baseball in the Kearny Little League and was recently selected to play for perennial power Rick’s Auto Body. Mullen is a pitcher and infielder in baseball.
“It’s really amazing all the things he’s able to do,” the elder Mullen said. “I hate to say it, because he’s my son, but the sky’s the limit for him.”
The younger Mullen was proud of his achievements.
“Yeah, I’m impressed,” Mullen said. “I know that this is only the start. I’m on to bigger and better things.”
But what about the curly, floppy hair? When he puts the head gear on before a match, the hair goes in about 13 different directions.
“I like my hair,” Mullen said. “I’m not going to change that. People notice me for my hair.”
They also notice what he does on the wrestling mat. As he turns just nine years old, Mullen has two state championships already. It’s safe to say that this young man has a very bright future.