Cony’s Mohammad Aljendi takes down his Mt. Ararat opponent in the 220-pound match Saturday at the Cony Duals in Augusta.

AUGUSTA — The journey from war-torn Syria to the wrestling mats at Cony High School hasn’t been an easy one for senior Mohammad Aljendi, or for that matter 13 of his teammates. Most were on hand for the 18th annual Cony Duals, a 12-team meet held Saturday at the Cony gym.

They’re part of a middle eastern contingent, that includes one wrestler from Iraq, who have assimilated more quickly than imagined into American culture and helped round out an already strong team.

“We love ’em,” Cony coach Shawn Totman said. “They’re super-supportive of not just themselves but the whole team. They fit in great. We practice together every day, we mix everybody up and it’s amazing.”

Aljendi was born in Syria (Damascus) as were his teammates. He left the country with his family and moved to Turkey at about age 10, but the plan was to eventually come to America.

“It was a very hard life living (in Turkey),” Aljendi said. “I was working and I didn’t go to school so my dad worked on that, to work on my future.”

The family moved to Arizona under a refugee program where Aljendi was introduced to wrestling and later hooked up with a couple more Syrian families who decided to move to Maine partially because they didn’t like the hot weather in the southern United States. One day he hopes to return to Syria, where much of his mother’s family still lives.

“Everybody hopes to go back to their country, but it’s still very hard and we still have the war,” he said. “We’re waiting to see what’s going to happen. We want the people to be safe then we will think about to go back.”

Because he’s attended high school for just thee years, Aljendi will return to Cony next year to graduate and wrestle. He and sophomore Ahmad Ahmad — who came to Maine by way of Turkey and Florida — were both on the team last year and eventually qualified for the state meet. Aljendi wrestles in the 220-pound class, but at about 110 pounds, Ahmad wasn’t sure the sport was right for him, but Aljendi encouraged him.

“(I told him) I’m so small why would I wrestle,” Ahmad said “I thought that wrestling was only for big guys.”

So far Ahmad has placed second in two tournaments at 113 pounds and third in another.

“A lot of them have never wrestled until this year,” Totman said. “What they’ve picked up in five weeks is really impressive. And the kids who came back after a year under their belt are some of the best kids in the region. What they’ve been able to do in such a short period of time is really amazing.”

Totman had five Syrian wrestlers in his lineup Saturday and may have as many as six or seven depending on who the Rams are wrestling. All have or are participating in the school’s English language learner’s program which has not only helped them in school but has also helped many of their relatives who are less familiar with the language. Totman sometimes leans on Aljendi or Ahmad to get a point across to a teammate.

“It’s almost like our language is wrestling,” he said. “You show moves and they can learn just by copying what you’re trying to show them.”

Two-time state champion Nic Mills said the Syrians have fit in well and knows their struggle has been a difficult one.

Syrian Refugees on the Cony wrestling team pose for a photo together. Back row left to right: Ahmad Ahmad, Ahmad Apdalnabi, Luey Najar, Mohammad Aljendi, Mohammad Apdalnabi Front row left to right: Muhamed Mushari (Iraq) Khaled Najar, Mohamad Ahmad, Uday Najar

“I’ve thought about, what they’ve gone through,” he said. “It’s really something. It certainly helps the team, filling in all those different weight classes. And they’re good practice partners.”

Totman said the influx of middle east students at Cony has been compared to the Somali group that came to Lewiston a few years ago but this one is much smaller. He said the support of the administrators and teachers has been a key to a smooth transition. Still, he understands the journey has been a difficult one.

“I said to Coach (Terry) Devereaux not too long ago there’s really no excuse for Maine kids to think they have a bad day,” Totman said. “What these kids have experienced at such a young age and to have such an amazing attitude and to be so happy and upbeat it says a lot about who they are and what they’ve been able to overcome.”

• • •

Mt. Ararat/Brunswick won the 12-team competition which follows an elimination format. The Eagles edged Cony in their matchup 42-39 and finished at 5-0 for the day. Cony (4-1) took second, followed by Oxford Hills and Morse. Mt. Blue/Spruce Mountain, Skowhegan, Winslow and Erskine finished fifth and sixth, respectively. The rest of the field included Gardiner, Hall-Dale, Madison and Massabesic.

The Rams were missing four currently injured wrestlers from their starting lineup.

“We have a lot of kids out hurt and our kids are filling in the lineup very well,” Totman said. “I was pleased.”

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