Feb. 12, 2009

By Amy Farnum Novin

Ben and Gabe Youel started learning the sport of wrestling 15 years ago together, and the brothers are still together competing at North Central College as two of the nation’s best Division III wrestlers.

The natives of Crystal Lake, Ill., were in first and second grade when their father, a former high school wrestler, brought them to a kids wrestling club at the local high school. 

“That first year we didn’t even have wrestling shoes,” said Ben.  “We just went to kids’ club practices with our dad at the high school across the street.  We met two nights a week and would learn about wrestling.  As the years passed, we got real shoes and started going to real meets and tournaments, and wrestling more and more matches.”

Since the brothers are only 15 months apart, they were always pretty close in size, and even had to wrestle each other in a few kids tournaments because they arrived at a tournament weighing the same.  But, usually, the elder Ben was heavier than Gabe when they were younger, and they never had to compete for a spot on a team.

“It seemed to work out that he would be exactly what I weighed the year prior,” said Ben.  “Then, in high school, he came in a little bigger as a freshman, and eventually I grew less than Gabe did.  When I graduated, I was wrestling at 145 pounds, and he was at 160.  I think my senior year was the first year he was heavier than me, and he’s been getting bigger ever since.”

When Ben began wrestling at North Central as a freshman, Gabe, who was still in high school, was not even sure he wanted wrestle in college, and originally thought he would go to a big school like the University of Iowa to just be a ‘student’.  But as his senior season progressed, Gabe decided he did not want to give up the sport he loved, and joining Ben at North Central became an option.

Now, at North Central, Ben is a senior and the second-ranked wrestler in the 165-pound class with a 33-2 record this season.  Gabe, a junior, is ranked fourth at 184 pounds with a 33-1 record.  Both earned All-America honors last year.

Growing up, the brothers practiced together countless times, in the high school mat room and at home, and know that having a partner so close in age and weight has helped make them better wrestlers over the years.  At North Central, there are plenty of worthy opponents in the wrestling room to practice against, but they still battle every once in awhile.

“(Ben) was always better on his feet than I was in high school, and sometimes we even got in fights about it,” said Gabe.  “Eventually, I learned not to get taken down on my feet.  One of us gets better at one thing, and we both learn from that and our wrestling improves.”

Although the Youels have learned the sport together, and do have stylistic similarities, there are also vast differences between the two wrestlers.

“I’m more of a hard-nosed, high-intensity wrestler – I go pretty hard and keep on pouring it on,” said Ben.  “Gabe is more calculated and strategic, and when he wants to score, he’s generally going to score.”

More than just practicing the latest techniques against each other, mutual encouragement is one of the most important parts of the brothers’ relationship.

“I remember going to tournaments when I was a kid and being nervous about all the other kids I had to wrestle – that they have wrestled longer than me or would be better than me,” said Gabe.  “It was always nice knowing you have your brother there to give you confidence and support throughout all the competitions.”

Ben says that making all the memories throughout the years – taking trips together, wrestling together, and joking around – has been the best aspect of the Youels’ wrestling career.

“When you spend all day in a gym someplace together, and just wrestle a few times, the majority of the time we are joking around and enjoying each other’s company,” said Ben.