Sunnyside trio teams up for meaningful Counting Takedowns wrestling & economics camp

Jaime Rivera Jr., Audrey Jimenez and Mike Avelar are leading the Counting Takedowns Camp at Sunnyside this week (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Imagine going from learning a leg immobilization move in wrestling to five minutes later sitting in a classroom discussing the importance of avoiding credit-card interest rates.

And you’re in the fifth grade.

That’s an example of what youths of all ages have experienced at Sunnyside High School this week as part of the Counting Takedowns Camp that involves learning about wrestling from Blue Devil standouts Audrey Jimenez, Jaime Rivera Jr. and Mike Avelar while also receiving lessons on being money-conscious in a classroom a few feet from the wrestling room.

“One of the reasons why we chose to implement math and an athletic camp is that we thought it was something students lacked and needed, especially in our underserved community of the southside,” said Rivera, who is headed to West Point to wrestle on a full scholarship.

“They can gain so much from this to help them for the future. Starting to learn about (economics ) at such a young age is super vital in my opinion. That’s something I was exposed to at a young age (with his dad Jaime Sr. an accountant). Based off our experiences, we thought it would be best to give back.”

Rivera, Jimenez and Avelar — all of whom are state-championship wrestlers who carried a 4.0 GPA in 2021-22 — were approached in March about the idea for the camp by Sunnyside coach Anthony Leon. He learned about a fellowship that would fund the operation from UFC two-time bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, a Flowing Wells High School graduate who often returns to Tucson to visit family and train.

The fellowship is offered through the Dragon Kim Foundation, a California-based nonprofit operation with this mission statement: “To inspire our youth to impact their communities while discovering and pursuing their passions.”

Audrey Jimenez trains a couple of young wrestlers during the Counting Takedowns Camp (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Rivera, Jimenez and Avelar went through an application process and presented their idea to Dragon Kim. After awarded the fellowship, they attended leadership seminars in Las Vegas for three separate weekends to help prepare them for the camp.

What makes Counting Takedowns unique is that it involves students through the 12th grade that includes classes on economic topics taught by the Arizona Counsel on Economic Education in addition to training on the mat with Avelar, Rivera and Jimenez. The campers switch from the mat to the classroom every 30 minutes from 5:30 p.m. to 8.

“When I was growing up, I never had anything like this,” Jimenez said about the economics education. “I don’t think I’ve heard of anything even now going on. I think it’s really great. Not all of these kids get this opportunity to learn something so important at their age.

“I feel that it’s something you don’t learn until you get into high school. If you’re growing up and you want to learn independent, it’s really important to learn about personal finance at a young age. It’s great that we’re able to have this project, this camp, for them.”

Spaces are open for students to sign up for Friday’s classes and training sessions before 5:30 p.m.


A culminating event open to the public will take place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sunnyside’s campus beginning at the auditorium with speeches and then transitioning to the football field for food, beverages and activities.

Daniel Kim, the co-founder of the Dragon Kim Foundation, is scheduled to be at Saturday’s culminating event.

He and his wife Grace created the Dragon Kim Foundation after their 14-year-old son Dragon and his friend Justin Lee were instantly killed in 2015 when a large oak tree branch fell on them while camping in Yosemite.

“They say grief is love with nowhere to go,” Daniel and Grace Kim penned on the foundation’s Web site. “Our love for Dragon needed somewhere to land. We established The Dragon Kim Foundation in Dragon’s honor to carry on his love of life, to make it possible for other young people to pursue their passions, and to help give others access to a bright future.”

George Figueroa, a CPA in Phoenix who is a St. David High School graduate, is a volunteer with the Dragon Kim Foundation. He is mentoring Jimenez, Rivera and Avelar during the economics classes this week at Sunnyside and has also taught the students.

Figueroa mentioned that the Counting Takedowns Camp is one of 35 fellowships funded by the Dragon Kim Foundation. Of those 35, 29 teams are based in California, four in Nevada and two in Arizona, including the effort by Jimenez, Rivera and Avelar.

“This is really Arizona’s best kept secret,” Figueroa said. “Here’s an organization that wants to expand but they need students who are passionate about whatever it takes to help the community. It doesn’t have to be athletics; they have all different sorts of projects.”

All projects will be complete or have accomplished a major milestone by September. Dragon Fellows will present their project results in a celebratory Dragon Graduation at that time.

Counting Takedowns campers Hannah Gonzales De Faria and Xitlali Verduzco are coached by former Sunnyside wrestling standout Tatiana Hernandez (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Three projects will be selected from the Dragon Graduation to compete in the annual Dragon Challenge Gala. The winning project of the Dragon Challenge will receive additional funding from the Foundation.

Figueroa mentioned that a link will be posted at the Dragon Kim Foundation Web site in August for people to vote online for their favorite project.

“One team from Tucson should get thousands and thousands of votes,” Figueroa said. “If we start spreading the word and the whole community gets behind these guys, especially with them competing against the California teams, that’s enough to get people excited enough to come out and vote.”

Jimenez, Rivera and Avelar want to give back annually to the community with this event. Additional funding by winning the Dragon Challenge would help that goal.

They are three youths Southern Arizona can rally behind.

Rivera, a three-time state champion, is headed to West Point, the first student from the Sunnyside School District’s 100-year history to earn that distinction.

Jimenez, a two-time state champ, is a world-class wrestler who has her sights set on competing in the 2024 Paris Olympics. She earned the U17 and U20 titles — and was named the Outstanding Wrestler of the U20 competition — in the U.S. Women’s World Team nationals at Fort Worth, Texas, on May 6-7.

Avelar, a state champion last season, is an honor student recently committed to the Air Force Academy. His brother Rick Avelar III is in the ROTC program at Dayton University, where he is a linebacker after a standout career at Walden Grove High School.

“One of the things we teach the kids (in the camp) is being a student-athlete and most important is the student comes before the athlete,” Mike Avelar said. “You have to get your grades in school. School is more important than wrestling. School takes you farther. Wrestling has to end some time.

“The smarts is what will bring you further in life.”

The Dragon Kim Foundation was founded in 2015 by Grace and Daniel Kim and named in honor of their 14-year-old son Dragon, who was killed along with a friend when a massive tree branch fell on their tent during a camping trip. Dragon was passionate about music, athletics, learning, and community service. He could play 10 instruments and loved helping to teach music to younger children. Dragon attended high school at the Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA), where he played in three ensembles, studied jazz, discovered a love for math, economics, and physics, and was very active in athletics, playing goalie for his water polo team, and pursuing a 3rd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Dragon benefitted from having a well-rounded educational experience. He felt all kids deserved this and wanted to provide opportunities for others to learn and grow. After his passing, the Dragon Kim Foundation continues his legacy, carrying on his love of life and learning, making it possible for youth to pursue interests in areas in which Dragon himself was passionate, and helping give others the access to a bright future. Our programs strive to bring to life Dragon’s dream of helping kids learn and serve their community, as well as support youth programs in academics, athletics, and the arts — The Dragon Kim Foundation

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