East Lyme -- It bears a resemblance to the room Rocky Balboa used to prepare for Ivan Drago. Or maybe where Jack Bauer would torture the bad guys. Certainly, though, not a place where they could just as easily have a gala, celebrating a third straight championship.
But underneath Chad Merriman's Authentic Okinawan Karate studio at Midway Plaza, a window-less, creaky, narrow cellar, three championship banners hang, though barely visible through the dim lighting. This is the home of Marcaurele Wrestling, the soul of it, really. The aesthetics scream: Hard work is about commitment and toughness, not chandeliers and champagne.
This was last Tuesday, a cloudy spring evening, long after wrestling season's passing. Even after Marcaurele Wrestling's third straight championship at the Gene Mills Eastern Nationals, one of the sport's elite events. It would not be unreasonable to expect the 100 or so on the mats to be playing lacrosse and baseball.
"If you take a break," said Devon Marcaurele, the reason all this exists, "it gives that much time for everyone else to catch up."
Devon Marcaurele bears the most famous wrestling surname in this part of the state. His dad, T.J. Marcaurele, who founded Marcaurele Wrestling for his son, was a decorated, multiple state champion who graduated from Ledyard High School and later wrestled at a junior college in Kansas and at North Carolina State.
"I stepped away from wrestling for a long time," T.J. Marcaurele said, now 20 years after high school graduation. "As soon as Devon started wrestling, I said, 'do something else.' He said, 'but I want to wrestle.' I didn't want all the pressure on him."
Marcaurele "stepped away" for 10 years. Hard to believe that he, with the perpetual motor, with the sport pulsating through him, could ever find other ways to occupy his time. But he did so gladly.
"I always had the passion. But when it became a job for me, I lost all the love for it," he said. "When you're in college, it's 'do what we say or else. I went out to Kansas at 157 pounds and they cut me to 118. Do what we say or else. It got to the point where they owned me. It wasn't fun."
Yet fatherhood, if nothing else, provides new priorities and clarity. So when Devon Marcaurele said it was time to wrestle, the juices began to redistribute.
"Devon started at park and rec in Waterford. He was terrible." His dad said. "He lost more matches in his first tournament than I did in my whole career. But he's such a happy-go-lucky kid. He'd come home with a big smile even when he lost.
"I let it go for a year." T.J. Marcaurele said. "One day, I said again, 'are you sure you want this?' He said yes. So we opened this place. In seven months, he went to the Greco Roman nationals and finished second."
Devon won the New England Prep title as a freshman and the Class M state title last year.
He owes much of it to the dimly lit room. Wrestlers come here from all over Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Marcaurele Wrestling didn't merely win the Gene Mills Eastern Nationals earlier this spring, but took third as well with its 'B' team.
"One thing I know," T.J. Marcaurele said, "is that you are only as good as your room. Once you out-wrestle the room, you can't get any better. If you kill everybody, eventually, you get bad habits."
Marcaurele suggested potential wrestlers visit his web site at marcaurelewrestling.com for more information. Your son or daughter would join a club in which an impressive number of their compatriots are already ranked nationally in various weight classes.
"Being around the kids in this room keeps you going," Devon Marcaurele said. "It's like a family. I never let the pressure bother me. I pretend my dad's a regular guy."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.