Roselle Park captured the team championship at the 10th Paul J. Finn Jr. Memorial Wrestling Tournament today at Millburn High, but the real winners were the fans who enjoyed some good wrestling and, most importantly, the foundation formed in memory of a great wrestler.
Finn Jr. was a NJSIAA champion in 1978 for Millburn High, winning the heavyweight title over perhaps the best field of wrestlers, ever, in that category in New Jersey. Among the contestants vying for the state championship 35 years back were eventual Olympic champion, Bruce Baumgartner, a four-time medalist, including a pair of gold medals in 1984 and 1992; former Dallas Cowboys great Jim Jeffcoat; Scott ‘Bam Bam’ Bigelow, who would be a professional wrestler for over 10 years and Paul Modugno, whom Finn defeated in the ’78 championship bout.
Finn was undefeated that season and is the only wrestler in state history to win a state championship, while pinning every one of his opponents.
The ‘Gentle Giant’ died suddenly in April, 1999. A husband and father of two, Finn was enjoying a successful career when tragedy struck.
Finn’s father, Paul Sr., along with his wife Laurie, began the tournament in 2004 to honor their son’s memory, as well as continue to promote high school wrestling, a sport Paul Jr. loved.
Among the good the foundation accomplishes are a $2,000 college scholarship to a Millburn High wrestler, a constant since 2001. There are also scholarships to summer wrestling camp for a Millburn grappler, as well as the Jerry Sachsel Camp Scholarship to a visiting team’s wrestler, the Dr. William Miron College Scholarship to a student that attends the Region 3 tournament, as selected by the officials, the Paul Serruto Outstanding Wrestler Award, the Robbie Smith Achievement Award and funding equipment purchase for the Millburn wrestling program.
Paul and Laurie Finn, as well as their children and grandchildren, are active participants in the annual tournament. There are smiles, tears and most importantly, a sincere love of wrestling and appreciation to those who come out and watch the event. Once again, there was a large crowd on hand to watch the eight schools participate.
“I can’t begin to tell you how appreciative Paul and I are for the support we receive from everyone,” Laurie Finn said. “Every year, it seems like the turnout gets better and this year was a wonderful event. The Millburn High administration, principal Miron and athletic director Ted D’Alessio are great partners and can’t do enough for us. Thanks to everyone.”
As mentioned, Roselle Park won the championship, downing Caldwell in a well-contested final. Seton Hall Prep and defending champion Haddon Heights competed for third place while Edison and Whippany Park were in the 5-6 bout. Millburn finished seventh, edging Summit in the third bout of the day.
It was Roselle Park’s first appearance in the tourney and its victory marked the fourth different champion since 2010. David Brearley High has won five consecutive titles (2006-2010) while Caldwell won the first championship in 2004. Other winners were Millburn (2005), Seton Hall Prep (2011) and Haddon Heights last year.
And of course, the real winner was the Paul J. Finn Jr. Tournament.
I’m sure the Gentle Giant is smiling once again.