When Jay Gerish was named head wrestling coach at Newark Academy in 1997, he began building a program with young, hard-working wrestlers.
Two years after taking the job, one of his first top grapplers was Jim Avola, who wrestled at Newark Academy from 1999-2003. Avola had a marvelous high school career, winning 125 matches, as well as three District 14 titles and one Region 4 crown.
Avola would go on to wrestle at Davidson College and continues to make his home in North Carolina today. He is still active in coaching wrestling today.
Avola wanted to remember his coach, who recently stepped down after a successful 19-year coaching career.
Coach Gerish and star wrestler Jim Avola, during Avola’s high school days at Newark Academy. (Courtesy of Jim Avola)
“As I sit down to reflect and write about my time with Coach Gerish, and what he has meant to me, I realize that this is not an uncommon occurrence. You see, while many people are blessed with great high school coaches, I, and all of the Newark Academy wrestlers, were lucky to not only have a great high school coach, but also someone who is and has been a great friend, mentor, and role model.
“I first met Coach Gerish the start of my freshman year at NA, and immediately knew it would be a perfect fit for my next four years. I knew he would help me grow not only on the mat, but off the mat as well. I had had the good fortune of learning from some great names in the wrestling community prior to my time at Newark Academy, Tom and Terry Brands, Tim Jacoutot, Tom Ryan, Ricky Dellegatta, just to name a few, but the lessons I learned from Coach Gerish far surpass anything I had learned before.
“The most crucial and longest lasting lesson I learned from Coach Gerish is simple, yet one of the most difficult things to learn, and as I have found out through my years as a coach, one of the most difficult things to instill in others, and that is self-confidence. The belief that you can achieve anything you set out to accomplish is quite powerful, and Coach made sure I knew that. My freshman year, all 92 pounds of me, (I) had started the season 16-0. One of our last events before Districts was a tri-meet with Gill St Bernards and Glen Ridge. Back in 2000, you could bump up two weights, so Coach had me wrestle 119 in our match against GSB. He did this not for the team, but for me. You see, in the next match, the 112 pound kid was Joe Dubuque.
“After pinning the kid at 119, I came off the mat and asked to bump to 112 for our conference match against Glen Ridge. Needless to say, it ended very well for Joe, not so much for me, but the lesson was learned. Believe in yourself and go out and do it. The results may not always be what you hope for, but what you gain from it goes far beyond the W’s and L’s. (For the record, Dubuque was a two-time state champion and later a two-time NCAA champ, at the University of Indiana).
“I can continue on and on about the lessons Coach has taught me, or the great memories, from the four District finals, or the three region finals, or even the trips to states, or how Coach taught me how to perfect the take down that lead me to two Southern Conference medals, or even the fun we had on our journey to the dual team state semifinals. I can talk about how, to this day, I am still frustrated over the fact that he never let me get a take down on him, but to be honest, what is more important to this day to me with Coach Gerish is the friendship I gained.
“From day 1, Coach Gerish took me in as if I were a member of his family. Coach, Tobi, Joseph, Patrick, and Jake all become more than people that were in my wrestling community, but people who were a large part of my life. I could not wait to get to practice early so that I could see Joe and Pat and work with them. I could not wait until our post-match dinners where I would hear stories about work, Catawba College days, or team parties at the Gerish household. To this day, I often email or text with Coach, have had the luxury of watching Joe and Pat wrestle at high level events, and continue to look forward to our next chance to get together.
“And I realize I am rambling, and can continue to do so for paragraph after paragraph, page upon page, and go through countless memories or lessons learned, but I’ll keep it simple. Upon graduating Davidson, I started coaching as well. First at Charlotte Catholic High School and now a friend of mine and myself run Darkhorse Wrestling club, with over 200 kids of all ages. As I coach, and have coached this kids, what I find myself doing day after day is trying to emulate Coach Gerish and how he would run practice, and the things he would say to motivate us, pick us up after a loss, or aide in helping us achieve our maximum potential. I often think about what Coach Gerish would think if he saw the way I ran practice, or what I said to my kids, or how I stress more than just wrestling. Would he approve. And if that doesn’t speak to the Hall of Fame coach he is and the lasting impressions he has left, I do not know what does.”
Wonderful words, from a great kid who has grown into a tremendous young man.
Thanks, Jim. I’m sure Coach Gerish will be overwhelmed with your comments.