James Felakos’ love of wrestling started when he was in 6th grade. In Brooklyn at the time, he joined a youth wrestling program and instantly excelled, showing true promise for what was yet to come. When his family moved to Mattituck, he continued that passion and enrolled in the middle school wrestling team at Mattituck High School.

It wasn’t long before Felakos found success. He was elevated to the varsity team as a freshman and went on to qualify for the state tournament after finishing second at the Suffolk County Division II championships. He lost to Cole Fox-Bathon of Southampton that year — and it bothers him to this day, two years later. Felakos didn’t have much luck at the state championships, leaving the tournament without a win, but as a freshman, it was a learning experience.

In his sophomore season Felakos missed qualifying for the states by one point. But this year, he didn’t let anything stand in the way of another shot at a New York crown. 

In the 190-pound weight class, Felakos was slotted as No. 5 seed in the Suffolk County championships Friday at Center Moriches High School. 

“We were surprised that he was given such a low seed after having the most wins in the weight class,” Mattituck/Greenport/Southold head coach Nick Fioretti said. “But because he didn’t have direct wins over the kids that were ahead of him, that affected his seeding. We had no question he was capable of winning this tournament.”

“The seeding didn’t bother me at all,” Felakos said. “Either way, you just have to wrestle the opponent ahead of you at each given time. To win this tournament you have to beat the best.”

And he did.

Felakos pinned his first opponent, Jarvier Soledad of Southampton, in just 36 seconds. He followed that effort with a 9-0 major decision over Port Jefferson’s Matthew Wengatz. The semifinal provided a little revenge, as Felakos bested Fox-Bathon, the wrestler who beat him in the finals his freshman season, with a pin near the end of the second period. 

Then came another appearance in the finals, his second in three years, against a polished wrestler in John Bracken of Mount Sinai. Felakos jumped out with aggressiveness and almost instantly took Bracken to the ground. They landed near the outside of the circle and Felakos’ coaches clamored for two points.

“You were about to raise your hand,” Fioretti yelled to the referee. “It was a clean takedown!”

The referee didn’t feel like the takedown was complete and ruled the wrestlers out of bounds, forcing a reset at the middle of the mat. The two wrestlers then exchanged takedowns and ended the first period tied at 2. Felakos took the second period with four points while giving up only two and entered the third period leading 6-4 and starting in the bottom position.

“All I was thinking was to not give up any back points,” Felakos said, with blood dribbling down his upper lip. “Stay forward and stay flat. I was in a tough position with him on top of me and at that point in the match I decided to play the clock.”

Bracken gripped Felakos’ arms and tried to flip him over but the Tuckers star wrestler refused to budge. Bracken tried it all, he changed his position multiple times but Felakos was just too strong. Eventually the final seconds ticked off and the long journey came to fruition. Felakos was finally a county champion.

“Felakos has been a great leader all season,” Fioretti said. “He deserved to win this. He’s put in the work. He really matured as a wrestler this season. I think he knew that he had it in him and just dominated today.”

Next on the agenda are the New York State championships, which will take place Feb. 24-25 at the Times Union Arena in Albany.

“I’d like to at least win a match in states since I haven’t done it yet,” Felakos said. “My goal coming into the season was to finish in the top two in the county so I did that already. Now it’s time to make some noise in Albany.”

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