Bo Bassett

Bo Bassett, a seventh-grade student at Forest Hills Middle School, poses during a photoshoot with Fred Vuich at The Compound in Richland Township on Oct. 15, 2019. Bassett will be featured in the December issue of Sports Illustrated Kids and is a finalist for SportsKid of the Year. 

A Forest Hills seventh grader has joined a group of some of the world’s best athletes, including LeBron James, Eli Manning and Bryce Harper.

Wrestler Bo Bassett has been named one of five finalists for Sports Illustrated Kids’ SportsKid of the Year.

“This is one of the biggest awards I’ve ever had a chance to get,” Bo said. “It’s everyone around the country. I’d be honored to win. It’s a pretty big deal.”

The other finalists, posted to SIKids.com on Thursday, include Olivia Hammac, an auto racer from Cape Canaveral, Florida; Aiden Opore, a track and field athlete from Suwanee, Georgia; Reece Roussell, a baseball player from Destrehan, Louisiana; and Ally Sentnor, a soccer player from Hanson, Massachusetts.

‘He sure is special’

Being in the spotlight is nothing new for Bo, who is the son of Bill and Karissa Bassett. The 13-year-old has already won five Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling titles – only seven wrestlers have won more in the event’s 57-year history – and he’s crisscrossed the country to find the best competition.

He captured the Super 32 belt at 80 pounds in Greensboro, North Carolina, on

Oct. 14 and won the USA Wrestling Preseason Nationals in Des Moines, Iowa, two weeks later. 

He’s ranked sixth nationally among all middle school wrestlers despite not having competed at that age level for his school yet and could end up being one of the most decorated wrestlers in the history of Pennsylvania, which is generally regarded as the top state for the sport.

“I don’t want to compare him to anyone else, but he’s on pace to be as good as anyone we’ve ever coached,” said Jody Strittmatter, who coaches Bo at the Young Guns Wrestling Club, which has produced NCAA champions such as Nico Megaludis, Vincenzo Joseph and Nico Megaludis as well as Spencer Lee, a three-time world champion at the youth level who is on pace to win four NCAA titles. “Will that keep up? That’s on him and on us. A lot can change, but he sure is special.”

Giving back

What sets Bo apart from the thousands of youth wrestlers across the country?

“He’s just an incredible kid, for his age and his work ethic,” said Strittmatter, a Cambria Heights graduate who won a pair of Division II national titles before becoming a two-time All-American at Division I Iowa. “He is so consistent with his work ethic. Some kids will work hard for a week or a month, but for as long as I can remember, he’s worked so incredibly hard. He loves the sport so much. You hear about burnout, but with him, he loves it so much. 

“It’s part of his lifestyle. He’s a great kid off the mat. He’s a phenomenal student. 

“He tries to be the best in the classroom, in the wrestling room or if we’re playing cornhole.”

The Sports Illustrated Kids award is about more than just athletic accomplishments. The honor, which is decided upon by the magazine’s staff members, also takes into account community service involvement, academic achievement and the well-rounded athlete.

Bo checks off all of those boxes, as he has a 4.0 grade-point average and has won the Humanitarian Award at Forest Hills each of the past two years. He also loves helping his peers.

“One thing that really impressed me about Bo is that as a young wrestler – he’s still a young wrestler – but when he first started out, he soaked up all of the things that the older wrestlers had to offer,” said Elizabeth McGarr McCue, senior editor at Sports Illustrated Kids, who conducted lengthy interviews with Bo, his parents, Strittmatter and Forest Hills teachers and administrators. “Now, he tries to give back to the younger wrestlers in the Young Guns program.”

‘It’s been awesome’

Bill Bassett said that his wife was more than a little taken aback when McGarr McCue made the initial call.

“We got a call out of nowhere from Sports Illustrated,” said Bill, who also serves as the coach of the Ranger Pride Wrestling and Forest Hills junior high programs. “We thought it was a joke. She was going to hang up on the lady.”

A few weeks later, Sports Illustrated Kids sent a photographer to the Richland Township location of The Compound, a chain of gyms founded by the Bassetts, to capture images of Bo for the magazine. As a finalist, he’ll be featured in the December issue.

“It’s been awesome. For my photo shoot I got to bring my belt,” Bo said of his Super 32 prize. “They took a bunch of pictures with my belt and with my state medals.”

The photo shoot was a highlight for Bo, in part because of the class in which it put him.

“The guy doing his picture has done pictures with Jordan Burroughs, Bo Nickal,” Bill said in reference to two of the world’s best wrestlers. “He was having Bo do some of the same poses.”

Waiting game

The winner of the award will be announced later this month. In addition to being featured on the cover of the December issue of Sports Illustrated Kids, the winner will be honored at the Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year event in New York. Some previous winners have become mini celebrities, with appearances on NBC’s “Today” as well as the “Ellen DeGeneres Show,” among others.

Bo said the experience has been eye opening – and has given him a new perspective on competition.

“I never really thought about it,” he said. 

“I always wanted to be the best in my sport, but I never thought about being the best in all sports.”

Recommended for you