Student wrestles to boost charity

VERGENNES — Vergennes Union High School junior Brandon Cousino is going to the mat for charity this winter — literally.
Cousino, a 17-year-old Ferrisburgh resident, is recruiting businesses and individuals in the Vergennes area to donate to the Vergennes Lions Club’s charitable initiatives, with the final amounts depending on how well he fares during his third season as a member of the VUHS wrestling team.
Given that Cousino has a record this year at 182 pounds of 12-0, defeated the favorite for the Maine Class A title last week, has compiled a 94-12 career mark, and finished second in Vermont at 170 pounds last winter, donations could add up to around $200 per contributor.
Cousino said so far he has rounded up five donors who have agreed to pay $6 per pin, $5 per technical fall (a win by 15 points or more), $4 per major decision (a win by 8 to 14 points) or $3 per decision (a win by 1 to 7 points).
He will chip in $2 per win of his own cash, and if Cousino loses he will match the same amounts his donors give for his wins (for example if he is pinned, Cousino will chip in $6).
Cousino believes the donations will add up to make a difference for the Vergennes Lions, a group that has taken on projects like building handicap ramps for those with mobility issues, as well as donating eyeglasses to those in need. 
“At this rate I think I’m going to easily break the $1,000 mark,” he said.
Not that he needs much extra motivation as a competitive athlete, but Cousino noted that his success on the mat means extra money for the Lions.
“The more I win, the less I have to pay out of my pocket, and the more I can raise for the community,” he said.
In addition to just wanting to help out those in need, like many high school juniors Cousino also had to be mindful that the college application process was looming, and wanted to build his community service résumé. He had heard of teams and individuals raising money based on wins and losses in other sports, and he said he thought why not take advantage of his favorite sport. 
“I haven’t given back to the community at all besides helping out with the youth wrestling program,” he said. “And I figured what better way to give back to the community than to do a fundraiser and to incorporate how I get the money doing something I am passionate about, which is wrestling.”  
Cousino has found the success of the project to be rewarding.
“At first I thought I wouldn’t be able to get many people to sign up for it. But now that I’ve gotten four to five businesses to sign up and a couple more that are thinking about it, I realize how much of an impact I can make for the community by just being one person,” Cousino said. “And it feels pretty good.”
Cousino should hit the 100-win milestone next week and could win 50 matches this year. And his last match this winter just might be a victory in the 182-pound Vermont final.
“I know that it will be a winnable match if I keep my head straight and keep practicing the way I have,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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