NIANTIC -- Dozens of young wrestlers, spanning from 4 years old to 17, fill a basement in a Niantic shopping plaza every Tuesday and Thursday night.
They're part of the MarcAurele Wrestling club, and boy, did members have an action-packed summer!
Earlier this month, Roy Jones Jr. paid them a visit. Jones is a professional boxer who told the young fighters to keep working hard at their sport because it teaches them responsibility and greatness.
"It was awesome," said 11-year-old J'Mari Lowman. "We saw him fight. He gave us all tickets from doing hard work."
Around the same time, Latin American actress Hada Vanessa came to town with some photographers to start taping a documentary about the club and its wrestlers. Vanessa's producer's son trains at the facility.
Seeing the film crews at work was an especially neat experience for Nicholas Bradley, who has trained at MarcAurele Wrestling for five years.
"A couple of cameras, like fog up in here. You know, trying to show, capture the essence of how hard we really practice in here," the 17-year-old said.
Vanessa told Fox CT she was touched by all the kids' discipline and wanted to help them succeed, which led to the creation of the new pre-practice homework center. It officially opened at Tuesday night's practice, complete with MacBooks and inspirational quotes. More computers, school supplies and cabinets are on their way.
"We figure open it up, give the kids an opportunity," said owner T.J. MarcAurele, who said that he has always pushed the importance of education on the young athletes. "If you don't have a B average or better, you're going to have to come in an hour before practice."
The new study area also makes for a better use of space.
"This place was a dungeon. It was all storage, garbage all the way up to the walls," said MarcAurele.
Students say they plan to use it.
"We're going to do homework in here," said 6-year-old Lucas Jud.
Lowman agreed. "My mom works and my dad does too, so sometimes I am home alone. This can help," he said.
Naaji Powell-Kuycon, 12, said he liked combining academics and athletics in one spot. "Now that we have the laptops and now that we have the homework, we can really focus more," he said.
MarcAurele plans to bring tutors in soon, while Vanessa said she is thinking big-picture. She started a GoFund Me Page while the paperwork for her non-profit, Fairy Tales Foundation, gets sorted out. The money she raises will go back to scholarships for the MarcAurele wrestlers and toward more improvements to the club itself.
Eventually, she would like to build them a brand new wrestling center that could host tournaments.