Brothers Anthony and Andrew Bribriesco helped the University of Chicago excel in the UAA in wrestling and are now teaming up to represent some of the most marginalized people in Iowa.
Anthony started wrestling in kindergarten. "My dad saw a local tournament and brought me," he recalled. "I was wearing sweatpants instead of wrestling gear and ended up winning the tournament. I won with the Granby roll in the final and I was hooked."
He competed in baseball, soccer, and track growing up, but he focused on football and wrestling in high school. "Senior year of high school, I mentally turned a corner," he said. "I had a great football season, rushing for over 2,000 yards (only three others had done that in Quad Cities and a handful in the state of Iowa). My coach wasn't selling me as a running back. He said I was slow and short but worked really hard, so I crossed playing further off my list."
Meanwhile he continued wrestling, but needed a breakthrough to reach a higher level. "Starting at such a young age, I would struggle with whether I wanted to continue doing this for me or because my dad wanted me to," he stated. "I would wrestle well, but never good enough to win a championship tournament."
The breakthrough came when he spoke with then Iowa Hawkeyes wrestling announcer Morrie Adams, who is also a licensed social worker who volunteers as a sports counselor. "He helped me understand that I loved wrestling and how to dinstinguish if you had a bad match, that was your performance, and separate from who you are. That really helped me enjoy wrestling my senior year."
"I started winning tournaments instead of finishing second," Anthony said. "I got mentally ready before the match with a change of perspective." He ended up being the top-ranked wrestler in the state, but a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the first round of the state championship ended his high school career.
Anthony was recruited by the University of Iowa, though he wasn't even sure he would be able to wrestle again after rehabbing his torn ACL. "Morrie put in a good word for me at Iowa," he stated. "I didn't get a scholarship, but wrestled there my first year. At that point, I didn't know anything about UC other than that Andrew was talking about it. I got introduced to Coach (Leo) Kocher and decided to transfer."
Photo: Anthony Bribriesco on top
The academic demands of his new university were apparent immediately. "In my first math class on my first day, I went into this dimly lit room with a professor wearing an oversized sweater who had already put up a set of more than 100 problems," Anthony recalled "Fortunately, the class was consolidated into a bigger section with a different professor so I dodged that bullet. Wrestling and the rigor of academics at UC is all about hard work. I saw how the culture at Iowa versus the culture of Chicago were completely different."
Anthony had to make several adjustments at Chicago. "I had wonderful teachers in Bettendorf, but UC was a completely different level," he said. "I was playing catch-up educationally." There were changes in wrestling as well. "I have always eaten as much as I wanted to and then worked it off. That works in high school, but was much harder to do in college."
Another place of learning was the wrestling mat. "I came in with an Iowa style of wrestling, but Leo had a very technical and particular type of technique. It was like learning a foreign language," Anthony joked. "Leo was very influential in giving me the opportunity to learn at UC. I will always be grateful for that."
He learned well under Kocher's tutelage and earned All-Association honors as a sophomore at the 2004 UAA Wrestling Championship and helped lead the Maroons to their fourth consecutive Association title.
Photo: Anthony Bribriesco victorious at UAA championship
After winning a wrestling tournament in the summer after his junior year of high school, Andrew was approached by legendary Wartburg College coach Jim Miller. "He asked me if I wanted to go to Wartburg, but I told him I had my heart set on going to the University of Chicago," Anthony recalled. "He said he would get me in touch with Coach (Leo) Kocher. I was going to UC regardless, but being able to wrestle was a bonus."
"Jim called and said, 'Leo, get a pencil. Write down the name Andrew Bribiesco,'" Kocher remembered. "When Jim inquired about Andrew's college plans, he mentioned Chicago, but he didn't know we had a wrestling program. I had him come to campus. He met with admissions, they gave him advice, and he ended up matriculating at UC."
"In the meantime, I learned about his brother at Iowa," Kocher added. "I spoke with our Dean of Admissions, Tom O'Neill, and asked him about a transfer. That's how we ended up with Anthony."
Andrew remembers his day-to-day existence in undergraduate school vividly. "I would have classes all day, afternoon practice, go to the library and do homework until 2 or 3 a.m., go to bed, wake up, and repeat it," he chuckled. "Plus we had 2-3 morning practices per week. We weren't in season during the spring, but in the fall and winter trimesters, I had no social life. My best friends were, and still are, the guys I wrestled with because I spent all of my time with them."
The adjustment to the academic rigor caught Andrew off guard. "The first year was pretty rough," he remembered. "I went to public school and I was used to being the best in class. Now I was being thrown in with international students and private school students who were also used to excelling. I got a C-minus on my first paper. I really had to raise up my level of competition in academics similar to athletics. I had to do that extra push academically."
Andrew rearned his spot as a starter on the wrestling team his freshman year, eventually joining his brother in earning UAA first team All-Association honors at 141 pounds at the 2007 UAA Wrestling Championship to help the Maroons regain the UAA title. Andrew earned the prestigious Mary Jean Mulvaney Award, given to the male and female senior student-athletes with the highest grade point average. "We took pride in how successful we could be as a team even though we were driven by academics, not athletics," Andrew said. "I loved my experience at the University of Chicago. Being a student-athlete was perfect for me."
Photo: Andrew Bribriesco competing in the UAA championship
"I always took a lot of pleasure in their success," Kocher said. "They were great young men, a lot of fun to interact with, bright, and thoughtful guys. They came from a great family and their parents were at so many of the meets."
Wrestling presented another challenge for Andrew apart from the competition. "I was constantly cutting weight," he said. "I am naturally about 160 pounds and was wrestling at 141. I was small for 141 pounds and would have been a lot stronger at 133, but there was no way I could do my academic work and cut the weight all the way to 133."
"Andrew and Anthony were amazing teammates and friends. Although wrestling can be a highly individualized sport, the Bribriesco brothers promoted comradery both on and off the mat," said Brandon Tillman, who wrestled for the Maroons and like the Bribriesco brothers, went on to get a law degree (his at University of Wisconsin-Madison). "In the wrestling room, they brought levity and sociability, which when combined with their zeal for learning and perfecting techniques served to improve the skill of their practice partners and the team as a whole. Outside of the classroom, they were active in promoting the success of their teammates by planning team events and study groups."
Photos, L: Andrew Bribriesco with Leo Kocher and ??; R: Andrew with now wife Jasmine
"Chicago turned out to be a great fit for them and they were a great fit for us," remarked Kocher. "I am honored to consider them both among my best friends."
Family, Law School, and the Latino Community
Although their last name often gave people the impression they are Italian, the Bribriesco brothers are proudly Mexican with a strong work ethic and desire to fight for others handed down by their parents William and Maria. "I remember referees would call me to the match and say 'Bribriesco' in a way that made me know they thought I was Italian," Andrew laughed. "I didn't have the time or the heart to tell them I wasn't."
William and Maria were first generation college graduates who both made it to law school at the University of Iowa. Maria worked as a migrant farm worker in Michigan and became the first person in her family to graduate from college and law school. "There were three Chicanos in law school there at the time and they were two of them," Anthony said. "They got married in their first year of law school." Their oldest child, Alejandro, was born when they were second-year law students and Anthony was born in their third year in law school. Andrew was born after they both passed the bar exam.
Photo: Anthony and Andrew Bribriesco
"When I decided to be a lawyer, I knew I would come back to Iowa," Anthony said. "That was a nice fit and I was lucky enough to be working during law school at University of Iowa. Dad was a solo practitioner at the time so I was getting real world experience."
After his first year in law school, Anthony married his middle school sweetheart. "We met in 8th grade algebra. I was very shy growing up so it was serendipity that we met then. Since I was working and married, my experience was very different than many others in law school."
"Becoming a lawyer may have started as more of a command than a choice," Andrew joked. "When I interned at my father's law firm, I realized how much impact you can have on an individual's life. I primarily represent workers. If I can make an impact through my representation, that is satisfying. It is still a fight like in wrestling. I started wrestling in kindergarten so I guess I have always been fighting."
Andrew's work with the Latino community was an important aspect of his time at Chicago, where he was part of a campus group called Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx...Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A) de UChicago. The group is both an activist and culturally recognized student organization that utilizes community service, political involvement, and education as a means for change.
One of the annual celebrations of M.E.Ch.A was commemorating the work of civil rights and labor movement leader César Chávez. "One year we brought in (actor and director) Edward James Almos for our Chávez event," Anthony recalled. "It was a great way to learn about different cultures and backgrounds, a way to bridge different social groups. We even had wrestlers who were not Latino who joined the organization. My best friends have always been wrestlers, primarily white wrestlers. Athletics breaks a lot of boundaries, especially for teammates. The whole idea of America and of higher education is that we can come together."
"Since graduating, the Bribriescos have fostered long-lasting connections with their wrestling teammates," Tillman noted. "We travel for special occasions such as weddings and other life events, and we attempt to meet for noteworthy wrestling events such as national preps, U.S. World team tryouts, and Olympic team tryouts. We are also always available for advice, a joke, or a sympathetic ear."
In addition to laying the groundwork for a lot of his future work in Latino communities, M.E.Ch.A is where Andrew met his wife Jasmine, who is now an ear, nose, and throat surgical resident. "All signs were that I was supposed to be at UC," he said. "There is nowhere else that I would have gone. That is the place."
Going to Iowa for law school was a no-brainer for Andrew. "I got a full ride to Iowa for law school and also got into University of Texas, which is very prestigious," he stated. "The ultimate goal was to practice law in Iowa. Our family is very close and I knew I would be working with my father and brother. It is ingrained in our culture to be together."
Working in the Latino community continued in law school for Andrew, who was part of the Latino Law Student Association. Now that he is a lawyer, he is the State Legal Advisor and City Council President for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Iowa. "The population is changing in Iowa and that is directly related to the increase in counsel in the state for LULAC," he said. "Most of my clients are Spanish speakers. We represent a large Spanish-speaking population in Eastern Iowa and receive many clients from other areas of the state because we do speak Spanish."
"I take from what I learned in wrestling. No one will tell you that you are good enough. You have to prove it," Anthony remarked. "I am interested in my clients’ best interests. I try to get into the courtroom as much as possible and combine all the things I have learned. Having an economic background and studying game theory was extremely helpful. I look to performance drama to learn performance in the courtroom."
With their parents speaking both Spanish and English and all of their grandparents being from Mexico, the brothers made a conscientious effort through high school and college to speak Spanish in addition to English. That has paid major dividends with their clientele.
"The Mexican culture is about never forgetting your roots," Anthony remarked. "I represent injured people. In the early years, I was doing workers compensation and a lot of the clients were first generation or immigrant workers from South and Central America, but mostly Mexican. Never forgetting your roots is extremely important. Being injured and not being able to work or support your family is devastating. I knew the sacrifices my great grandparents made so I could be where I am. I know my family has sacrificed so much for me."
Photo: Anthony Bribriesco with his family
"I really appreciate what my clients go through," Andrew said. "We stand on the shoulders of the those in the past and it is our obligation to work for a better future. My parents were part of the Chicano Legal Law group in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I had those ideals instilled in me. Whatever success I have is to make them proud."
Photo: Andrew Bribriesco with his family