Chemistry teacher wins over students with brawn and brains

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NEW HAVEN – Wilbur Cross High School chemistry teacher Michael Selearis has had a great deal of by success strong-arming his students. Now, it’s on to see how his strong arms fair on the national stage.

Wednesday night at 9 p.m., ESPN2 will broadcast the World Arm Wrestling League Middleweight Championships, and Selearis, 40, is among those vying for the title. He says he probably had to win close to 20 matches to reach the finals in Las Vegas.

“I’ve been competing for 24 years in the sport of arm wrestling and I don’t think I’ve hit my full potential yet,” says Selearis, a married father of three young children.

Arm wrestling competitively has helped Selearis connect to his students, especially those who have struggled with chemistry.

“When that kid sees that I like arm wrestling, I’m infatuated with it, I love it, and I get that kid to come on board with the arm wrestling, then, all of a sudden, there’s a common playing ground and I can pull that kid in,” said Selearis, who has been teaching at Wilbur Cross for nearly a decade.

“He was one of the guys who, pretty much, pushed me to graduate,” said Rayshaan Williamson, who will play football at the University of New Haven. Even the kids who haven’t had Selearis as a teacher say they wish they did.

“It’s the energy that you put out there,” said Selearis.

The school’s principal distinctly remembers meeting Selearis, known on the arm wrestling circuit as “The Chemist,” during her first day at the school.

“He breaks out an arm wrestling table and I’m like ‘what is this guy doing,’ and someone says, ‘oh yeah, he’s an international arm wrestler,’ and I’m like, ‘yeah right, he’s a science teacher,'” said Edith Johnson, Wilbur Cross’ principal.

“Everybody kept talking about him and I was like ‘who are you talking about’ and ‘who is he,’ and it was like he always had a striped beard,” said Imen Darden about his first days of high school. Now, Darden is entering 10th grade.

From his distinctive beard, to his crazy eyes, he’s special to these kids.

“Hopefully, the whole class becomes aware that this guy’s more than just a teacher that’s got a job to do,” said Selearis.

He says sometime this fall he will likely stage an arm wrestling competition in New Haven.