Jack Pinto Cup wrestling meet honors Sandy Hook Elementary shooting victim

By: BRENT W. NEW sports@gazette.com
January 25, 2014 Updated: January 25, 2014 at 10:57 pm
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Dean Pinto and Ben Pinto pose with signed USA Wrestling banner (Photo by Chris Casper)

Before his tragic death, 55-pound Jack Pinto had fallen in love with the world of wrestling. He wasn't timid in a sport that crowns one winner and one loser every match, nor was he bothered with the sometimes brutal physicality of it.

Honestly, it's not a sport every 6-year-old would enjoy, or push the limits in . but Jack did.

For two months, Jack, a sports enthusiast at heart, wrestled for the pure fun of it. As a first-grader, he wasn't thinking how long he'd stay with the sport, or how good he could get at it if he kept with it.

Wrestling, at that time, simply made Jack happy - "made him smile," his father, Dean, recalls.

Two months after his first wrestling practice, however, Jack was gone. It was the morning of Dec. 14, 2012, when Jack became one of the 26 victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newton, Conn.

More than a year later, USA Wrestling showed its support for Jack Pinto and the Pinto family, as four U.S. teams and four foreign teams (about 80 wrestlers in all) tangled in dual-meet competitions in the renamed Jack Pinto Cup at the U.S. Olympic Center on Saturday.

The international event, previously called the Kiki Cup after U.S. Wrestling sponsor Kiki Kelley, helped raise money for the national youth sports initiative called "Jack Pinto . Getting Kids in the Game", which helps provide the underprivileged with opportunity to participate in sports.

The initiative came to be when Jack's parents, Tricia and Dean Pinto, partnered with the nonprofit organization KIDS in the Game in November to launch the campaign, which according to KITG executive director Natalie Hummel, has helped more than 400 kids and has raised more than $20,000.

"My wife and I wanted to do something with his name on it that showed that this world is not just a bad place with bad things," Dean Pinto said. "No. There are a lot of great people in this world, and a lot of good causes out there. We're hoping this can ."

He paused.

"It can't fully heal us, we know that. But I think he'd have loved this," he said, as he peered at the giant USA banners hanging from the rafters of the complex.

These days, Dean, his wife and 11-year-old son, Ben, spend some of their time traveling around the country spreading Jack's legacy, along with some of his memories, in hopes of helping other children along the way.

"If we can help just a couple kids a day, and do it in Jack's name, that will bring a smile to our faces," Dean said. "And that's what we want. Just help whoever we can, and show people there is good."

One good thing the family loves to remember about Jack is when he lost one of his first teeth.

It happened at wrestling practice when Jack was dueling with one of his teammates. At some point during this match, the other kid's shoulder knocked out the second of Jack's top front teeth, which spit out of his mouth onto the mat like a sunflower seed.

Most 6-year-olds would have at least paused. Not Jack.

Despite blood running down his lips onto his shirt, Jack, without a second of hesitation, picked up his tooth, handed it to his coach and hustled back to finish the match.

"That's what wrestling is all about. When I first heard that story I was like 'That's what I want out of a wrestler,'" USA Wrestling coach Steve Fraser said with a smile. "It was inspiring. And we're honored to have the privilege to be a part of this cause in any way possible.

(USA Wrestling) hopes we can help keep Jack's name alive to remind people how precious life IS and how much you should appreciate life."

Jack did . even though it was way too short.

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