The boys next door
Bump into Nevada Union wrestlers Mel or Jon Bird on the street, and you would probably get a shy smile, maybe a polite hello.
“They’re very respectful kids. They’ve got great parents and been brought up the right way,” NU head coach Steve Pilcher said.
Plop them onto a mat and the last word that would describe the soft spoken duo is courteous.
Mel, a junior 152-pounder, has compiled a 28-4 record this season, including wins at both the Bella Vista (Fair Oaks) and Nevada Union invitationals.
He just missed qualifying for last season’s Sac-Joaquin Section Tournament and is ranked No. 4 in his weight class among Sacramento area grapplers.
“Mel’s a really strong kid and his work ethic has improved 100 percent over the last year and that comes from maturity,” Pilcher said. “He’s always been very physical, but he’s been improving his technique too. He’s pretty good right now, but when he (gets some of the little things worked out), he’s going to be great.”
Jon, a sophomore, has won 23 of 30 matches and is ranked No. 6 among area 135-pounders.
“Jon’s quick, aggressive and very strong for a 135-pounder,” Pilcher said. “But he’s got a completely different body type from his brother. (While) Mel’s really compact, Jon’s a little longer. He’s not much quicker, but being a little longer, he can get to things a little faster.”
BROTHERS IN ARMS
The Bird boys began their wrestling career five years ago.
Mel took to it quickly.
“My dad wrestled in high school, so I wanted to give it a try. It was fun (from the beginning),” the 16-year-old said. “It was the one-on-one combat. I liked it because it’s just you and your opponent out there.”
It was a different story for Jon.
“I started in fifth grade, but I stopped in seventh grade because I really didn’t like it. I wasn’t that good. Then my brother convinced me to try it again (the next year),” Jon said.
The younger Bird, who saw his big bro take fourth in the prestigious Tournament of Champions near Auburn on his year out of the sport, came back with a vengeance.
He tied for seventh at 145 pounds in the very same tourney the next year and has been hooked since.
“It takes a lot of hard work and dedication,” he said “I like it because when you win, it’s because you’re better than the other guy, not because of your team.”
THE BIG TIME
With rock-solid wrestling background, Mel earned a spot on NU’s varsity as a freshman.
He posted a 22-17 record and took third at 145 pounds in the Capitol Athletic League. He struggled in the postseason, but came back strong the next season.
As a sophomore, he made the move up to 152 pounds and it paid off.
He took second at the Tracy Invitational, sixth at the Keith Peterson Memorial in Roseville on his way to a fourth-place, individual league finish. Mel finished one spot out of placing at the subsection tournament in eighth.
Jon also made a splash as a freshman.
He took fourth at the Laguna Creek Invitational and was the CAL runner-up at 135 pounds.
This season, Jon was runner-up at both the Bella Vista and NU tourneys, as well as taking third place finishes at Lincoln and at the Keith Peterson.
“I would like to see both of them wrestle freestyle and maybe go to a camp or two in the off-season. That’s the kind of thing that’s helped a lot of our kids take it to the next level,” Pilcher said. “Little things make a difference in sports, so (if they can do that), you’re going to see some tremendous things out of them in the future.”
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