Dante Jiovenetta looks on as wrestlers practice their moves inside the Coral Shores High School gym. KELLIE BUTLER FARRELL/Keys Weekly

Isle Style club wrestlers went toe-to-toe inside the Coral Shores High School gymnasium during a well-attended rumble on Nov. 5. Roughly 40 young wrestlers, ages 5 to 17, spent two hours learning wrestling techniques, followed by another two-hour live wrestling session. 

“I’m not sure an event like this has ever been done in the Keys for wrestling,” said club founder and head Coral Shores High School wrestling coach Dante Jiovenetta.

Jiovenetta went to Coral Shores and is a two-time state wrestling champion; taking home the top honors in 2015 and 2016. He went on to wrestle at the University of Missouri. 

In January 2021, Jiovenetta started the Isle Style wrestling club. Practices are held three times a week.

“I think it’s great; that way people know there is another option for sports in the Keys,” said Bethcaira Diaz of Tavernier. Diaz’s two sons, Noah, 10, and Samuel, 8, are members.

Carrie Tudor’s son is a sophomore and is on the Coral Shores wrestling team. Tudor believes important life skills are learned on the mat.

“They are learning self discipline, they’re learning self control, they’re learning how to win gracefully or lose gracefully, because you can’t hide behind another teammate; it’s not a group sport,” said Tudor.

This rumble was a fundraiser for Mangrove Mike’s Endeavors Paying Forward. The goal of the nonprofit is to give to local people in need. Mike Forster was a larger than life character in the Keys. He served on the county commission and owned Mangrove Mike’s restaurant, but he was best known for giving back to the community. He passed away from COVID-19 on Sept. 6, 2021.

“He was a great friend to the family. He was a great fan of Dante’s,” said Joe Jiovenetta of Forster’s unwavering support of his son’s wrestling passion.

“When Dante would walk into the restaurant, he’d always make a big deal.”

For the Jiovenettas, wrestling runs in the family. Joe Jiovenetta wrestled in college and his three sons, including Dante, all excelled in the sport.

“I’m very proud of him. He’s carrying on the family tradition and it’s a big deal to us,” said Joe Jiovenetta.

Dante’s brother Vinny also helped out at the rumble. “I don’t know who else you would want to coach your kids other than this guy,” said Vinny Jiovenetta.

At the end of the event, an athlete was awarded the Mangrove Mike Outstanding Character Award, given to the athlete who shows the best work ethic, the most heart and kindness and generosity.

That award went to 13-year-old Gavin Matheis. Gavin has been wrestling for five years. Last year, the PKS student finished first in the state in his weight class. 

“I’m super proud of him,” said Jim Matheis of his son’s wrestling accomplishments. “The thing is he does all the extra stuff – he works out on his own, we don’t have to tell him. 

“The other kids are starting to gravitate to him because he’s leading by example,” added Matheis, who was also a Division I wrestler in college.

For coach Dante Jiovenetta, the turnout and enthusiasm surrounding this event is inspirational.

“We’re just trying to build the wrestling community in the Keys,” said Jiovenetta.

More information about the Isle Style Wrestling Club is at islestylewrestling.com.

Kellie Butler Farrell is a journalist who calls Islamorada home. Kellie spent two decades in television news and also taught journalism at Barry University in Miami and Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. She loves being outside, whether spending time on the water or zipping down the Old Highway on her electric bike, Kellie is always soaking up the island lifestyle. Kellie and her husband own an electric bike rental company, Keys Ebikes.