Caldwell advances 5 to Region 4 semis

A busy night of quarterfinal round wrestling at Region 4 in West Orange on Feb. 28 produced some good results for Essex County-based wrestlers.

All tolled, 18 from Essex advanced to their respective semifinals, with Caldwell sending five while West Orange and Newark Academy advanced three and Nutley and West Essex saw two of their guys move on. Livingston, Glen Ridge and Cedar Grove sent one each to the semi.

There should be a very exciting match on tap at 113 pounds on Saturday morning between familiar opponents in West Orange’s Isaiah Adams and Dean Caravela of Caldwell. The two have met three times already, with all three bouts down to the wire. Caravela won the Essex County and District 13 championships while Adams prevailed in a dual match a few days after the county final.

Caldwell’s Mario Pitch and Nutley’s Joe Ferinde were slated to meet in a 120-pound semifinal while Livingston’s Tommy Heller earned a berth in the 126 pound semifinal.

Newark Academy had a good night, advancing three wrestlers, including Brendon Seyfried, who advanced to the 132 pound semifinal. Seyfried’s teammate, Steve Bonsall, gained a berth in the 138 pound semi, as did Nutley’s Stephen Scuttaro.

West Orange had a good night, advancing three wrestlers to the semis, starting with Adams and continuing with 145 pounder Jordan Velez. At 152, Patrick Gerish of Newark Academy  will take on Caldwell’s Ray Iodice in a semifinal bout. Iodice had perhaps the biggest upset of the evening, defeating third seeded Manny Ramirez of St. Peter’s Prep.

Glen Ridge’s John Faugno remained unbeaten with a win a 160 pounds and Caldwell’s Joseph Valentino stayed on path for a region title at 170 pounds.

Christopher Morgan of West Orange, the top seed at 182 pounds, won his quarterfinal match and West Essex’s Mark McDonald was scheduled to face top seeded Christian Colucci of St. Peter’s Prep in the semifinals at 195 pounds.

The 220-pound category featured three from Essex advancing to the semis as Cedar Grove’s Rodney Deprenda, Matt Dignozio of West Essex and Caldwell’s Joseph Bongo all prevailed.

By mike051893

Chief Gary, Frankie Dip and Joey Ben: Coaches who make Region 4 proud

I’ve covered more than my share of sporting events since I began writing for a newspaper back in 1975. I’ve often said the reason why I still enjoy going to games and matches is the rapport built with the athletes, and the relationships developed with the coaches.

I’ve also been doing this long enough that a number of athletes that I covered as ‘kids’ are now coaches themselves. That either means I’m getting older (aren’t we all?) or that time does fly by (which goes hand-in-hand with getting older, I guess).

Anyway, with all that said, I’ve always had a special affinity for the wrestling season. It is, by far, the longest season in high school sports. Practices generally last 3 to 4 hours a day, there’s a high rate of injury and for a coach, it takes a special man to keep athletes motivated, especially as the season hits early February.

Last weekend, I covered the District 13 and 14 championships. I saw Nutley repeat as champion for the third straight year at District 14 while Caldwell won the District 13 crown in a close battle with Passaic Valley.

As a Belleville guy, I still despise when Nutley wins at anything, but that’s just because it’s in the blood. I’ve always said I’ll never wear anything with a Nutley Raider logo, but as a grown man, I’ve come to respect good kids and quality coaches, and this Nutley team has both.

From the coaching perspective, I am a big fan of Nutley’s head guy, Frank DiPiano. He does it right, plain and simple, and there’s a reason why Nutley, which had never won an Essex County title since the inception of the ECT in 1974 had won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013 and now have the three-peat at the districts.

Frank comes from a legendary coaching family, led by his father, Michael Sr. The DiPiano coaching tree also includes older brother, Mike Jr., who did a great job for the Nutley girls’ soccer program this past fall as its second-year head coach and is in his third season at Northern Valley, Demarest as that school’s wrestling coach. Middle sister, Michele is an accomplished high school softball coach, as well as a successful elementary school teacher.

The biggest compliment I can ever give Frank is that I’d trust him coaching, or teaching a child of mine any day of the week, and twice on Sunday.


Frank DiPiano (left) with legendary dad and Hall of Fame Coach Mike DiPiano, Sr.

That same sentiment goes for Passaic Valley wrestling coach Joe Benvenuti. I first knew of Joe when he was a student-athlete at Passaic Valley High School. I later covered his wrestling teams at West Essex and now have seen him continue a winning wrestling tradition at P.V.

‘Joey Ben’ only knows one speed, and that’s full throttle. But as intense as the practices are in the Hornets wrestling room, there’s a compassionate side of this man who wants his athletes to succeed to their fullest potential. And not because it will improve his won-loss record, but the firm belief that wrestling can develop a young man’s character and lead him to success long after his final high school match.

While still a young man himself, Benvenuti has been coaching long enough now that some of his former wrestlers have joined his staff. He also takes pride in coaching against former wrestlers, because he is proud to see those young coaches giving back to the next generation of wrestlers.

I’ve also seen Joe become a doting father and loving husband. He epitomizes what it means to be a man.


Joe Benvenuti, a father, husband, son and outstanding coach.

One of my all time favorite wrestling coaches is Caldwell’s Gary Garamella. Gary has been Caldwell’s head coach for about 15 years now. A teacher at Caldwell High, where the school’s moniker is ‘Chiefs’, Gary is literally, the ‘Chief’, since he also holds the top position in the town’s all-volunteer Fire Department.

There is never a time when the words class and professionalism haven’t reigned on this man.

I’ve often said that Garamella’s entire coaching staff looks like they’re headed to an IBM board meeting, as opposed to a wrestling match. But dressing the part goes a long way in sending the message that a Caldwell wrestler will work hard in practice and conduct himself like a man on, and off the mat.

Despite losing one of its best wrestlers to a serious leg injury at the Essex County championships last month, Garamella led the Chiefs to the District 13 title, defeating Benvenuti’s Passaic Valley team by 10 points. He was also named the District 13 Coach of the Year.

Trust me, there are many more men like Frank, Joe and Gary, but I wanted to express my appreciation to them for making the reporter-coach relationship so beneficial all these years, and hopefully that will remain for many years to come. They aren’t in this job for the money, they’re in it for all the correct reasons.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACaldwell’s Gary Garamella, a Chief on and off the wrestling mat.

Let’s hope the fans of Nutley, Passaic Valley and Caldwell High wrestling appreciate their coach as well.

By mike051893

Mac and Cheese at District 14 and a special thanks to Michele Florio-Campisi

In a state with 32 high school wrestling districts, it’s hard to pinpoint one and say it’s unique.

But since I’ve been covering wrestling for various newspapers dating back a few decades, there are some nice memories for me at District 14, which is traditionally held at Livingston High School.

Besides the wrestling, there’s the usual array of food available outside the gym. Almost all of the goodies are homemade by parents and friends of the school and its respective wrestling program. The people who put it together don’t ask for any fanfare, but I had to say a special thanks to Michele Florio-Campisi, who makes a tremendous macaroni and cheese dish. For years, I’d pay my $3.00 for a nice portion of the M & C. And if you know people from Essex County, we can be particularly snobby when it comes to this dish.

unnamedMichele’s Mac and Cheese is awesome !

This year, I got to the districts a little past lunch, and figured I’d missed out. But out of the blue, Michele approached me and said, “I got you covered.”

Bear in mind, I hadn’t seen Michele since last year’s tournament, but she still remembered. Her big heart certainly made my day.

Great, I said, figuring I’d get a nice dish of M & C. Instead, she had made me a pretty big tray, and three days after receiving it, I’m still enjoying.

According to Livingston wrestling coach Tom Noto, Florio-Campisi is a very important person to the wrestling community in town.

photoThe ever-present and hard-working Michele Florio-Campisi.

“Michele works really hard for us,” Noto said. “She runs the booster club and is always there for anything we need. She has a step son currently on the team and had another son graduate from Livingston High a few years back.”

Noto also said that Michele works with special-needs children.

So, thanks, Michele, for making the annual day of wrestling at District 14 continue to be special. Can’t wait for next year !

And thanks for all that you do.

By mike051893

Trabucco recalls a different time in high school wrestling

Long after Pat Trabucco was graduated from Livingston High School as one of the school’s best wrestlers, the memories of growing up and competing for the Lancers stay strong.

Trabucco has been out of high school nearly 13 years now. While at LHS, he won four Essex County, District 14 and Region 4 championships, as well as capturing four NJSIAA medals, including a second place finish in 2001 and a third place finish as a freshman in 1998.

Trabucco later served as head wrestling coach at Livingston and today, along with good friend Matt Kirspel, helps run the recreation wrestling program in Livingston.

I usually run into Pat every year at the District 14 championships, since they’re still held in Livingston, so it was no surprise to see him this past weekend, along with Kirspel. And it takes about 30 seconds (maybe less) to get him started on some of the characters who wrestled in his era, as well as the toughness in the current group of grapplers.

“Matt and I were drill partners in high school,” Trabucco said. “We’d fight all the time, and he was best man at my wedding. That’s the way it was. We had our moments, but we loved the sport and put everything we had into it.”

Kirspel, who finished among the top wrestlers in the state in his senior year, agreed.

“Oh man, we’d have some battles,” he said. “But it stayed in the room.”

Trabucco also recalled a time, in his freshman year at Livingston, when he nearly went at it with his coach, Bob Keenan, during a drill.

“I took a swing at him,” Trabucco recalled with a laugh. “He took care of me pretty quick, too. And you know what? I loved it.”

Keenan and Trabucco are close friends to this day.

“It’s a different world now,” Keenan, who is today an administrator in the Millburn school system, said. “Back then, we’d have our crazy moments in the wrestling room, but it stayed there. Today, with social media and stuff, it’s different. Everything you say, or do, seems to go public. I understand that’s the way it is, but there was something special about those days with guys like Pat, Matt, Ricky Barry and the Devlin brothers. I wouldn’t trade those times for anything.”

Trabucco, along with other high school wrestlers from the late 1990s and early 2000s, also noted that with social media, a lot of current high school wrestlers are much closer now.

“Can you imagine Rami Ratel and Anthony Conte tweeting each other?” Trabucco said with a laugh. “Those two couldn’t stand each other in high school, and that was just because they were so competitive. I worked out with guys at clubs and then wrestled them in high school matches, but we weren’t exactly friendly. We had a scrimmage once and I got into a near brawl with the guy I was wrestling, telling him to stop stalling. I then faced the same guy in the Bloomfield Holiday Tournament (championship bout) and we had to be separated then, too. A year later, I’m showing him some moves, after I graduated high school. That’s the way it was back then.”

Ratel, who coaches at Bloomfield now after a tremendous scholastic career with the Bengals from 1993-1997 and Conte, who was a coach at Belleville for a decade after a tremendous high school wrestling career at Belleville, from 1994-1998, actually became friendly, but it took at least 10 years past high school for that to happen.

Joe Dubuque and Anthony Montes were a different story.

Dubuque, a 2001 graduate of Glen Ridge and a close friend of Trabucco and Montes, a 2002 Nutley grad, would have some tremendous matches against each other, but off the mat, the two of them were best friends, which remains to this day.

“On the mat, it was all business,” Dubuque recalled. “But off it, Anthony and I were really close.”

Montes also noted the camaraderie, plus the intensity.

“Beating Joe on the mat was always a goal of mine, but off it, I’d do anything for him,” Montes said. “I’ve always said that Anthony Messina (from Bloomfield High) was a good friend, and I’ll see him at workouts today, but we won’t get back on the mat and wrestle each other anymore. That stays in the past.”


By mike051893

God Bless America: The World Trade Center Site Continues to Thrive

We all have our stories of where we were on Sept. 11, 2001, so there’s no need to bore you with mine.

But having worked across the street from the World Trade Center for over a year prior to 9-11, I can safely say I grew attached to that area of Lower Manhattan. So, anytime there’s a milestone in the re-development of the site, I feel like I should be there.

towersWho could ever forget these two great buildings ?

My first trip to the site after the attacks came in November of 2001, and the devastation was overwhelming. I remember seeing the site, with the smoke still billowing and the water spraying the embers from across the street. There was such an eerie silence to that day, even though a lot of people were there that Friday morning after Thanksgiving. A lot of them stood and cried. Many watched while talking to police officers, and the sentiment was so positive toward the NYPD. Some tourists would ask to have their picture taken with an officers. Others just shook hands with them and said thanks.

Port Authority Opens New NJ PATH Train Platform At World Trade CenterThe new PATH station at the World Trade Center has a gorgeous new platform.

Port Authority Opens New NJ PATH Train Platform At World Trade CenterState-of-the-art platform at the PATH Station of the WTC, opened on Feb. 25, 2014.

While the site was indeed a work-in-progress in not only cleaning it up, but respectful in that remains of victims were still being recovered, there was also a lot of hustle and bustle in the immediate blocks around the site. Tee-shirts, statues of the WTC and other artifacts were being sold and  there was plenty of people there. Hey, it’s New York.

memorialThe World Trade Center Memorial Site. Quite stirring.

We’ve all seen the great things that have happened there since late 2001. I remember taking the first PATH train back to the WTC site in November of 2003. That event came to mind today as the PATH station at the WTC unveiled a new platform. The place looks beautiful and I can’t wait to go visit soon.

When the WTC officially became the tallest building in the United States, I couldn’t help but visit. When the sphere was added to the top of 1 WTC, I had to go. When the WTC Memorial opened in Sept. of 2011, I was there the first month it opened and have returned numerous times to visit. It’s quite a site.

workersSome of the workers at the WTC site watching the sphere placed on top of 1 WTC last spring.

The rebuilding of the site in Lower Manhattan is a testimony to the spirit of our great country. Pretty soon, the World Trade Center buildings will all be thriving with tenants. A new generation of people will inhabit the area, but we should never forget those who worked there and didn’t come home on Sept. 11, 2001.

wtc 1Speaks for itself.

flagGod Bless America !

By mike051893

Remembering ‘Dubuque Saturday’, 13 years later

Having done my share of writing for nearly 39 years, I will admit there are a few stories that resonate for a lifetime. When it comes to high school wrestling, there is, by far, one which stands out. It happened 13 years ago and comes to mind specifically this weekend, as the Region 4 championships are once again contested in Northern New Jersey.

To set the stage for this story, I’ll throw in a little ‘Honeymooners’ analogy. Do you remember the episode when Ralph Kramden thought Alice might be stepping out on him, and was planning a strategy with his pal, Norton, to catch her in the act? Ralph’s classic line was, ‘Oh, I’m going bowling, Norton. But I’m NOT going bowling’. Norton was clearly befuddled.

Okay, fast forward a few decades to March 2, 2001 and if Glen Ridge’s Joe Dubuque could see into the future, he might have said to some close friends on the New Jersey high school wrestling circuit, ‘I’m going to win the states, again. But I’m NOT going to win the regions.’

Confused? Okay. But after reading this story, you’ll learn a little more about determination, some incredibly good luck and a bit of fate that not only won Dubuque a second state title, but quite possibly changed his life’s direction. Enjoy.

Long after the final whistle sounded, and the cheering ended on a wrestling mat in North Jersey, three friends remain tied to each other, in part due to a weekend 13 years ago that will forever bond them.

This is the story of Joe DubuqueAnthony Montes and Anthony Messina, wrestlers from neighboring Essex County high schools in Glen Ridge, Nutley and Bloomfield, respectively, who formed a triangle at Passaic Valley High in Little Falls, which has transcended time.

It’s what makes high school wrestling, and its subsequent competition, so special. And while the friendship amongst the three had begun long before a fateful weekend in March of 2001, what occurred over a seven day period 13 years ago has forever changed their lives. It’s a story of courage, raw emotion and the ultimate victory which would alter Dubuque’s life and strengthen a friendship already cemented in respect.

In 2001, Dubuque was a senior at Glen Ridge, having won a NJSIAA championship at 112 pounds a year earlier. He was rolling through his senior year at 119 pounds, undefeated, and for that matter, unstoppable. Dubuque had won his fourth straight Essex County Tournament championship earlier in the 2000-2001 season, and had just turned in a dominant effort at District 13, for his fourth straight title there.

Even in elementary school, Dubuque was a wrestling fanatic. His idol growing up was Belleville High’s Anthony Conte, a 1996 state champion and Belleville’s lone four-time NJSIAA medalist, to date.

“My friend, Joe Schoch, was a big Rami Ratel (from Bloomfield) fan and I was a Conte fan,” said Dubuque, today the assistant wrestling coach at Princeton University, following a successful stint in the same capacity at his alma mater, Indiana University.  “When Anthony and Rami wrestled, we’d go to the match together, but sit on opposite sides of the gym while they had their match. After they finished wrestling, we’d sit together again. It was that intense, even for us kids.”

mon jpeg

Anthony Montes (center) with Joe Dubuque (left) and Anthony Messina following the Region 4 championships on March 3, 2001.

Regions, March 2-3

On Friday, March 2, 2001, Dubuque won his Region 4 quarterfinal at Passaic Valley. Already a three-time region champion, he was scheduled to wrestle Messina, then a sophomore who was just beginning to gain credibility in the sport, the following morning in a semifinal. He was also excited about having just set a new state record for takedowns in a season, eclipsing the mark of 204 by perhaps the best high school wrestler, ever, in New Jersey, Damian Hahn of Lakewood.

“I remember going to bed that night and thinking I had to wrestle Joe the following morning,” Messina recalled. “I knew I didn’t have much of a chance, but I was also looking forward to wrestling him. I figured, no one was expecting me to win and I had nothing to lose. What’s the worst than can happen? I lose? Okay.”Dubuque Saturday

The two stepped on the mat around 9:15 a.m. on March 3. Messina planned to be aggressive and see if he could gain some momentum.

“Right off the bat, I caught him with a high crotch and thought I got the two points, but (referee, MarkSherman said my foot was out of bounds,” Messina recalled. “We’re walking back to the center of the mat and I’m thinking ‘(Joe) is going to kill me now.”

Dubuque was a devastating wrestler on his feet and would often shoot toward opponents’ legs to gain leverage. As Dubuque moved in, his head collided with Messina’s forehead and Dubuque crumpled to the mat, losing consciousness for about 20 seconds.

“My friends had nicknamed me ‘Rock’, because I have a hard head,” Messina said. “When we hit, I didn’t feel anything, but then I saw Joe lying there.”

Dirk Phillips, Glen Ridge’s wrestling coach at the time and today the Glen Ridge High School principal, recalls the moment like it was yesterday.”

“I remember him lying on the mat, and I’m saying ‘Joe, Joe, you okay,’” Phillips said. “He wasn’t responding, but he eventually started coming out of it. Back then, while we had trainers, the response to head injuries is not nearly what it is today. The trainers would not let him continue, and a doctor who was at the match wouldn’t allow him to continue without being examined first.”

Messina, admittedly confused by what was happening, suddenly had his hand raised in victory, marking Dubuque’s first loss of the season.

“At first, I was happy because I won,” Messina said. “But I was more concerned at that point about Joe. I went down to the locker room and apologized, but Joe was quick to say there was nothing to apologize for and that it was a part of the sport. It happens. Still, it was weird.”

With Dubuque off to a doctor, the buzz around Passaic Valley was deafening. I remember calling my editor at the Star-Ledger, Bruce Moran, seconds after the injury to inform him that Dubuque might be out of the tournament. Moran had already set up ‘art’ as we called it, meaning Joe would be featured on the front page of the special supplement.

“Keep me posted,” said a frazzled Moran. “I have to change everything. But seriously, I hope he’s okay.”

Dubuque left Passaic Valley quickly, hoping to get a doctor’s clearance to continue wrestling. Having lost, he would need to wrestle back for third place if he any hope of winning a second consecutive state championship. His first wrestleback would be 90 minutes after his loss to Messina, so time was critical.

“I was determined to wrestle back,” Dubuque recalled. “It was a freak accident, but that stuff happens. It certainly gave me a new perspective on the sport.”

Dubuque’s older brother, John, hurried Joe to an Immedi Center-type facility to get a clearance, which was obtained.

“That could never happen today,” said John Dubuque, who is an assistant wrestling coach at Belleville High today. “There would have had to be a battery of tests first and of course, Joe would not have gotten back in time to wrestle that day.”

Dubuque returned to the gym in time to face Angel LaPorte of Kearny in the first of two wrestlebacks he would need to win to clinch third place. Montes, then a junior who had won the other 119-pound semifinal, remembers well watching Dubuque try and wrestle LaPorte.

“I didn’t think he should be out there,” said Montes, one of Dubuque’s best friends to this day. “He was wobbly throughout the match. I remember when I was wrestling my semifinal at the same time Joe and Anthony were on the mat and all the commotion when Joe got hurt.”

Dubuque’s eyes were red and he appeared to wobble at times when standing up. But somehow, he caught LaPorte, who in his wildest dreams never thought Dubuque would be in a wrestleback, for a pin in the third period. What probably saved Dubuque’s season that day was referee Joe Luongo, a seasoned wrestling official who was keeping a close eye on him.

“When you’re officiating at that level, you have to know the kid,” Luongo said. “I had worked enough of Joey’s matches to realize he could wrestle his way through it. I handled him with kid gloves that day, but also knew how tough Joey was. I had to give him the opportunity and didn’t want to stop it, especially after he was cleared to go. This is a once-in-a-lifetime situation for a kid. You don’t want to stop it and the kid turns out to be okay.

“However, if I saw any indication he was in jeopardy, I was stopping it. With Joey, he always talked a lot during his matches, so I had a few conversations with him in that particular match. When he’d go out of bounds, I’d ask him ‘how are you’ and ‘what day is it’, stuff like that, and he was responding like usual. It also helped that I had a good relationship with his head coach, Dirk. We had spoken before that match and Dirk seemed okay to let Joey go out there. Ultimately, it was still my decision and I’m glad it worked out the way it did.”

After defeatimg LaPorte, Dubuque had another hour to try and recoup before he faced Lou Rabelo of North Bergen for third place. Only the top three wrestlers from each weight class advance to the state championships, so there was just one way for Dubuque to qualify. The extra hour seemed to do him some good. His eyes were much clearer and he seemed more focused.

Dubuque put on a typical take down show against Rabelo, building up a big lead before registering a fall to clinch third place.

As the day’s events at Region 4 were concluding, Dubuque received a thunderous standing ovation from the crowd of nearly 2,000 at Passaic Valley. Dubuque was somewhat overwhelmed by all the attention. He even garnered some votes as the tournament’s outstanding wrestler, which was unheard of for someone who finished third.

“Honestly, I still don’t remember a thing from that day,” Dubuque said recently. “The entire day was a blur, literally.”

The injury affected other wrestlers in different weight classes at the region. Pat Trabucco of Livingston, an eventual four-time Essex County, District 14 and Region 4 champion, as well as a four-time NJSIAA medalist, was noticeably down after winning his fourth region title.

“Joe and I are best friends,” Trabucco said that day. “We were supposed to be winning this together.”

Trabucco, who was head wrestling coach at his alma mater through the 2010-2011 season, also recalled the day Dubuque was injured with a vivid memory.

“The reason why we’re all pretty close today is the bond we formed as competitors back in high school,” Trabucco said. “Montes, Frank DiPiano (the current Nutley head coach) and I were all at Joe’s wedding and they were at my wedding. Wrestling is that bond. To be honest, I never doubted Joe’s ability to come back that day and eventually be a champion again. He was that cocky and that good. He just had to get a doctor to clear him.”

There were two newsworthy events going on at Passaic Valley that afternoon. One was Dubuque’s injury and the other was a massive snowstorm which was supposed to hit the local area. The predictions were for more than two feet of snow for early the following week, with 40 mile-per-hour winds that could produce five foot drifts. (If you knew then Passaic Valley coach Nick Zarra, he gave the best description of the storm, with that raspy voice).

On spec, the NJSIAA pushed the next round of wrestling, then called the super regions, back a day to March 7, in deference to the storm. Because Dubuque finished third in the region, he would need to win his first match at the super regions to assure himself a trip to Continental Airlines Arena in the Meadowlands that weekend for the state championships, then win a second time that evening to assure himself a chance at winning a second state title.

The aforementioned snowstorm never occurred. But the extra day off for the super regions would help Dubuque’s recovery. This is also where the friendship between Montes and Dubuque took another turn.

Super Regions, March 7

Dubuqe and Montes had hoped to wrestle each other in a state championship final in 2001. A year earlier, Montes had made it to the 112-pound semifinals before losing and eventually finishing sixth in the state. Dubuque, who was wrestling in the other semifinal that year, went on to win the state championship at the Meadowlands.

“We had come pretty close to facing each other a year earlier for a state title,” Montes said. “So we both felt that it would be our year. When Joe got hurt, it changed all the matchups for the super regions. There was even talk after he originally got hurt that maybe I’d medically forfeit the region final, so we would avoid having to wrestle each other in the super regions.”

Montes didn’t forfeit the Region 4 final. He defeated Messina, 13-8, for the 119-pound title. But that meant he would most likely face Dubuque in the super regions at Union High School, assuming Dubuque defeated Roselle Park’s Dan Appello in the preliminary round earlier that evening.

“I couldn’t forfeit a region final,” Montes said. “You have to understand that when we competed back then, wrestling was everything to us. That’s the way it was meant to be (13) years ago. I always kid (Messina) that he messed everything up that year. In a way, the best thing I ever did was wrestle Joe that night in Union. I’ll never forget it.”

Nor, would the large crowd in attendance that evening at the super regions.

Dubuque won his first round match over Appello, ending Appello’s season and setting the stage for his match with Montes later that night. Both guys were assured of a trip to the Meadowlands, but the victor would be advancing to the winner’s bracket.

Dubuque, who was back in good health, won a 7-5 decision. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the two embraced and Dubuque raised Montes’ hand in victory, even though Dubuque had won. Many in the crowd had tears in their eyes. The standing ovation lasted at least two minutes.

“There were other matches going on, and most of those matches stopped for a few seconds,” Montes said. “It was unbelievable. The crowd was so loud. Our A.D. back then (Angelo Franicola) often talked about what an incredible level of sportsmanship that match had represented. I’ll never forget it, and I had lost. While you never like to lose, I felt good in that I had wrestled really well that night.”

Dubuque would later say, and continues to reiterate today, that there was no loser in that match.

“We had wanted to face each other in the state final,” Dubuque said. “But I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”

State Championships, March 10-11

Now at the Meadowlands, Dubuque would not be stopped. On March 10, he won by technical fall in a bout that lasted just four minutes. The following day, he started with a 15-5 victory in the semis, setting the stage for the state final opposite Matt Anderson of South Plainfield, himself a state champion in 2000 at 103 pounds. Dubuque would wrestle a vintage match in the finals, recording four take downs en route to an 11-5 victory. As the final horn sounded before nearly 14,000 fans that day, Dubuque broke down and cried.

“If you knew Joe, you’d know he wasn’t the type to be emotional,” Phillips said. “But he had been through so much that week and to realize he was a state champion again meant the world to him.”

Dubuque called Anderson the nicest person he had ever met in the post-match press conference. He thanked his family and friends for their love and support. He would stand on the top deck of the podium that afternoon, and Montes would stand on the podium as well, having finished seventh in the state at 119 pounds.

“When you deal with an injury that could end your season, it puts things in perspective,” Dubuque had said at the time. “I got a second chance, and I’ll never forget it.”

That second title meant so much more to Dubuque in the subsequent weeks.

“If he was unable to continue after the injury,” Phillips said, “I doubt he would have had the college career he did. At the time, Joe wasn’t known, nationally, as a great wrestler. But winning in 2001 gave him a chance to compete in the senior nationals, and he won there as well.”


Dubuque received a scholarship to wrestle at the Indiana University. In 2005 and 2006, he would win a pair of NCAA championships.

“Winning two national championships was great,” said Dubuque, who finished his high school career with a 134-7 record. “But I’m not sure any of it happens without winning that second state title. It changed my life.”

Phillips admits to this day that he’s still not sure he did the right thing in allowing Dubuque to continue wrestling at the regions back on March 3, 2001.

“It still have doubts,” Phillips said. “Obviously, it turned out good for Joe, but I wonder if I should have let him continue. For sure, if that kind of injury happened today, there’s no way he could have continued. There are so many safeguards in place now for head injuries and a lot more awareness.”

Messina, whose season ended at the super regions in 2001, also wouldn’t trade the experience of that weekend.

“I remember watching the state finals with some friends on television that year and hearing them announce Joe’s name and that his record was 30-something and 1, and my friends saying ‘yeah, his only loss was to you,’” Messina said. “I know he was the better wrestler, and I wish he hadn’t gotten hurt, but it does mean a lot to me, today, to know that I was a part of that story.”

Montes would go on to earn a third state medal in 2002 and today is the assistant wrestling coach at Nutley High.

“Messina and I are great friends,” Montes said. “He works out with some of our kids on the mat, but it’s funny, we’ve never gotten back on the mat and wrestled each other, even for fun. We’ve left those experiences to memory.”

Looking Back

“There were so many good wresters from that era in New Jersey,” said Dubuque, who today is a husband and father of two. “I think of guys like Montes, Messina, DiPiano and Trabucco and how talented they were. To be a part of that experience was something I’ll never forget. I’m still close to all those guys because of that and I’ll always be grateful.”

Dubuque won his second state title on March 11, 2001. Many will recall what happened six months to the day later as a timeline in their own lives.

“Things were really different,” Dubuque said of his high school days in the pre 9-11 era. “The times were less complicated. Yeah, there were cell phones and computers, but it wasn’t like now. I’m glad I grew up when I did. I’ll never forget the little things which made that time special. As close as we were off the mat, when we wrestled, it was a battle. When it was over, we were back to being friends. And that will continue for the rest of our lives.”

And thus, the legend of Dubuque Saturday, March 3, 2001.

By mike051893

Why Cagnina? Region 4 seeding meeting underway at West Orange High

It’s become a tradition.

The Region 4 seeding meeting at West Orange High brings the usual committee of coaches together for a morning/mid-afternoon of arguing, laughing and, ultimately, deciding the seeds for the upcoming wrestling tournament.

The committee regulars include Nutley coach Frank DiPiano, Passaic Valley’s Joe Benvenuti, Mike Settembrino of Becton, North Bergen’s Jerry Maietta and the legendary (Uncle) Eddie Roselle from St. Peter’s Prep. While Uncle Eddie is the assistant coach, he’s THE MAN, in these meetings and his arrival was greeted with a thunderous ovation.

Roselle’s sense of humor is classic. In 2010, as Frank Cagnina of Queen of Peace was en route to winning a third state championship and breaking Mike Grey’s state win record, Roselle, in a serious tone, looked up at the board, saw Cagnina seeded first and said ‘Why Cagnina’? (as the top seed).

The only question this year is which wrestler will get the ‘Why Cagnina’ vote from Uncle Eddie.

So, it’s about 9:15 a.m. on Feb. 24, and the meeting has its usual disarray of organization, but it’s all good. Anthony Verdi, the head coach at St. Peter’s, sends a text, asking if Uncle Eddie is behaving. He also said he hopes the meeting will be over in five hours.

Good luck with that, I said.

The over-under of when this meeting will conclude is anyone’s guess. I’m saying 3:30 p.m. would be ideal. If West Orange coach Stefan Zichella starts ordering pizza around noon, then the meeting still has plenty of time left.

For the avid high school wrestling fan, these are the best two weeks of the season, with the regions this week and the NJSIAA championships on March 7-9 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

It’s a Bruce Moran kind of setting, for sure. Stay tuned.

By mike051893

Time to start warming up: Baseball with the Carcich twins, Pitchers and Catchers report, Essex softball and Margate summer

Enough of this, already.

Snow, ice, sub-zero temperatures.

Snow, ice, sub-zero temperatures.

Snow, ice, sub-zero temperatures.

Notice a pattern?

I’m sick of it, and I’m sure most of my loyal readers are, too.

So here’s a little baseball talk, starting with kids playing and having fun. My pal, Rob Carcich and his wife, Lauren, have twin sons, Robbie and Michael, and both kids are crazy sports fans. They live and die watching their dad coach the Passaic Valley High School boys basketball team. When they’re not rooting for the Hornets, the youngsters are involved with multiple sports in their home town in Upper Bergen County, NJ.


get-attachment.aspx 2wGreat seeing the little guys having fun playing ball…

Seeing the looks on their faces while playing baseball in warm weather (yes, there is such a thing as warm weather in Northern New Jersey), should give us all hope that in a few months (maybe less), we’ll see a lot of youngsters like Robbie and Mike on a baseball diamond, playing the game we all love.

I can’t wait for opening day in Major League Baseball. I’m told it’s just six weeks, or so, away, but I can’t believe these glaciers that dominate most of the landscape where I live will be melted in time to play ball. But, I’m guessing it will happen. Nature has a way of taking care of that stuff, right?

With that said, Go Cardinals and Go Rays !

On to high school, I’ve been a big fan of Essex County softball for many years. April 1 is the traditional opening day and I can’t wait for the drama that is Essex softball. There will be the intense games featuring schools like Mount St. Dominic, Nutley, West Essex, Caldwell and, of course, the Big Green Machine in Livingston.

I’ll have my usual race horse analogy for those ‘studs’ like Kylie McLaughlin of Livingston (Seattle Slew) and Nutley’s Carly Anderson (Spectacular Bid). While Secretariat is retired from the high school circuit but is now playing at Hofstra University, there will be plenty of good players to watch this spring.  (Sadly, no more popcorn analogies, but then again, you never know).

secretariat-at-belmont-1-by-sue1Secretariat may be retired from Essex softball, but her fastballs are alive and well at Hofstra.

jasonLivingston coach Jason Daily hopes to get doused with another championship in a few months.

AndersC2_042613_NS_tif_Carly Anderson of Nutley, a stud pitcher for the Raiders.

km 4The returning stud outfielder and leadoff hitter at Livingston, Kylie McLaughlin.

I still think Livingston is the team to beat, but you have to like The Mount, with some talented pitchers returning, Nutley, with Spectacular Bid in the circle, Caldwell, with hopefully their wonderful young pitcher healthy and ready to go, and West Essex, who I think may be the surprise team in the Super Essex Conference. Andrea Mondadori’s team is always in the mix, but I think this team could be her best since the 2010 squad won a sectional title. We shall see.

11037346-largeWest Essex players hope to be eating plenty of popcorn following big wins in 2014.

Softball also means a few months of comedic relief from Immaculate Heart Academy coach Anthony LaRezza. Whether we’re talking about old time umpires or classic Soprano lines, there’s never a dull moment with IHA’s leader.

chylaknestorbioFormer MLB umpire Nestor Chylak is a legendary figure at IHA.

larLaRezza ‘relaxing’ during a recent Bergen County Tournament game.

And finally, it’s less than 15 weeks until Memorial Day weekend. I don’t care if it’s snowing that weekend (heaven forbid), I’ll be in Margate, NJ, that Saturday, May 24, with my beach pass and chair, in tow.

I’m ready. End of story there.

1655987_10202161082202343_1881556353_nCan’t wait to plop that beach chair at my favorite location on the Jersey Shore.

Think warm thoughts and hopefully, it will come true soon.

By mike051893