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.”