Bethalto fifth-grader Vinny Zerban stands in front of several trophies he’s won while wrestling with King’s Select wrestling out of Belleville.
Vinny Zerban has a lot of wrestling trophies for an 11-year-old — but he’s not your typical fifth-grader.
By day he’s an average student at Meadowbrook Elementary School in the Bethalto School District. But when he’s not in school, Vinny trains with King Select wrestling out of Belleville, competing in and winning competitions against other junior wrestlers throughout the nation.
He will compete May 23-26 with Team Illinois at the Virginia Beach National Duals, going into the event with a current season record of 95-7. According to the National Youth Rankings for ages 10 and under, he is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation for his age and weight.
With over 60 pins and only six losses coming by no more than two points, Vinny is a 12-time national champion with the World of Wrestling Roller All Star Team. He has also won five outstanding wrestler awards at national tournaments as well. Competing in the 73-pound weight class, he most recently took first place at the Brute Nationals April 10-13 in Independence, Mo.
Howard Couch, Vinny’s stepfather, is his main supporter, coach and travel buddy. The two have built a lasting bond through wrestling.
“He started wrestling when he was seven years old,” Couch said. “His uncles got him started at an early age; they were all wrestlers in high school and his family has a rich wrestling tradition.”
But it was Vinny’s mother, Sugar Bryant, whose family passed down the wrestling gene. His uncles, Billy and Shawn Bryant, were both successful wrestlers for Civic Memorial High School, both helping Vinny get started in the first grade. After winning a few competitions, he began to develop a natural love for the sport. His King Select coach, Ryan King, said what sets Vinny apart from his peers is his competitive edge.
“Vinny hasn’t lost a match locally in over three years,” he said. “And the only matches he’s lost altogether this year were only by a few points.”
Vinny has also placed first in his division at the Indy Nationals, the Show Me Nationals, Missouri Nationals and the Celtic Elite Championships in northern Illinois, where he won a championships against an eighth-grade state champ.
At the Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation State championships, he placed second and lost 4-2. And after he went undefeated 5-0 at the Ohio State University duals earlier this year, he was asked to join the Illinois National Team, allowing him the chance to compete in Virginia Beach this weekend.
So Vinny has been pretty busy for a guy his age. But for him, all that hard work pays off in the end.
“One of favorite parts about wrestling is beating kids that are older than me,” Vinny said. “But my favorite part definitely has to be winning lots of trophies.”