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Former Mepham High School wrestler films aspiring athletes for YouTube series


A former Wellington C. Mepham High School wrestler has returned to the mat — this time with different equipment.

In September, Alexander Pekoff, of Bellmore, launched “THE GRIND!” on YouTube, a reality television series documenting the journeys of young wrestlers who train at Dynamic Wrestling Academy in Hauppauge. Jason Layton, who coached Pekoff when he was starting out in the sport, owns the facility.

“I met Alex when he was in seventh grade as his private coach for wrestling,” Layton said. “He was an amazing athlete to coach and among the hardest workers I’ve known.”

Pekoff, 23, is now translating that work ethic into filmmaking, which he took up as a hobby last summer, he said. “THE GRIND!” follows a handful of Layton’s athletes — ages five to 12 — as they train, compete and evolve in the wrestling world.

“We’re hoping it shows what philosophies worked, what didn't, who ends up becoming the champion and who ends up burning out in 10th grade,” he said. “I wrestled for about six years and loved it, but it taught me a lot of discipline.”

Pekoff’s long-term goal for the project is to eventually document the wrestlers’ rise to competing at the college-level. “In 10 years, we’ll have all this footage of these kids growing up,” he said. “Our goal is to give all the kids who are serious about wrestling a chance to be in the show, so they have to go to a competition and show up regularly.”

Filming for “THE GRIND!” began in May. So far, Pekoff has posted five, roughly 25-minute episodes to YouTube, each of which has garnered thousands of views. Although pandemic-related travel restrictions have hindered Layton’s wrestlers from competing across the country, he views this season as an opportunity “to get our feet wet” before 2021, “when we’ll be able to make a real run with it,” he said.

“What we hope to do next year is follow a team of wrestlers from Dynamic to tournaments and events around the country and release weekly episodes,” Pekoff added.

While working behind the camera, Pekoff uses his wrestling expertise as a way to relate to his subjects. “I know how hard these kids are working,” he said, “and since they’re comfortable talking to me I can ask them better questions.”

Pekoff said he is most surprised by the “absolutely hilarious” antics that ensue off the mat, which offer a stark contrast to what occurs during competitive matches. “What makes the show great is you have this comedy of kids being kids, then it will transition to this really intense environment,” he explained. “When they’re on the mat, it’s all business — they flip a switch.”

Layton said he is most excited for viewers to see the stories depicted in “THE GRIND!,” and added that its presence could help paint the sport in a more positive light. “Long Island has a fledgling wrestling scene, and we hope the show will inspire more families and kids to get involved,” he said.

“THE GRIND!” is available to stream on YouTube.