Clarkstown South’s lion-hearted little big man found his niche early and parlayed an uncommon competitive drive into a blue-ribbon wrestling career.
“David was a ferocious competitor who hated to lose,” says John Laurenzi, Hirsch’s coach his senior year, 1990. “Whether it was playing whiffle ball or wrestling for the state title or performing in the classroom, that fueled him more than anything else. He was a driven guy, and he raised the bar for everybody on the team.”
Hirsch chose wrestling in eighth grade because “I needed some sport I could equalize myself in,” he says. “I liked the fact it was an individual sport and the only person I depended on was myself.”
At 5-foot-5, Hirsch is not physically imposing. But he imposed his will on his wrestling opponents. That was never more evident than in his senior year at Cornell. Wrestling at 126 pounds, he had absorbed three losses in the regular season. In the 1994 NCAA tournament, however, payback time was at hand for Seth Harrison of Oklahoma State, Sanshiro Abe of Penn State and Jody Staylor of Old Dominion, all of whom succumbed to Hirsch after having beaten him previously. Hirsch culminated a 41-3 senior season with a one-point decision over Staylor for the NCAA championship.
In his sterling collegiate career, Hirsch:
ï® Won the NCAA title as a senior and placed fifth as a junior, earning All-America accolades both times;
ï® Was a three-time Eastern, Ivy League and New York State champion;
ï® Was chosen as Ivy League Wrestler of the Year and as Cornell’s athlete of the year in 1994, beating two football players who went on to the NFL.
ï® Posted a career mark of 116 victories and 17 losses.
In his senior year, “My goal was to win the NCAA championships,” says Hirsch, who sweated through three workouts a day for four months – weight training, cardiovascular/aerobic conditioning and regular wrestling practice – to achieve that goal. “I had wrestled every guy who would be in my weight class in the year prior. I knew if I had a good year, I had the potential to win. I knew what it took to take the next step, to get to that level.”
As a freckle-faced schoolboy at South, Hirsch showed glimpses of that later promise by capturing the New York State championship at 105 pounds; placing fourth in the high school national tournament to earn All-America honors; and finishing runner-up at 114 pounds in the Espoir national championships for wrestlers 18 to 21 years old, when he was only 17. “It’s a tournament for freshmen and sophomores in college, but they accepted graduating seniors,” says Hirsch, who competed in the tournament along with Emilio Collins of Tappan Zee.
In his four-year varsity career for the Vikings, Hirsch was a three-time All-County and All-Section performer and amassed more than 100 victories. He was coached by Greg Smith his freshman year, Duncan Innis his sophomore and junior years, and Laurenzi his senior year.
Hirsch was inducted into the Clarkstown South Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
After a one-year stint as an assistant wrestling coach at Cornell, Hirsch earned a graduate dental degree from New York University, entered a residency program for oral and maxilla-facial surgery for one year, then switched to medical school, also at NYU. He has two years left in residency training and hopes to fulfill a goal of becoming an oral surgeon, specializing in cleft lip and palates.
After dental school, I wanted to do more with surgery and helping people,” says Hirsch, who has a trip planned at the end of this month to help underprivileged Mexican children with cleft lip and palates. “I wanted to do what I felt was exciting, and I like working with children.”
Hirsch, who is 30, lives in New York City with his wife Elena, and 1 1/2–year-old daughter, Kaitlyn.