When Jay Gerish decided to ‘retire’ as the head wrestling coach at Newark Academy, in Livingston, after 19 seasons, he figured the reaction from those who followed the fledgling program would be respectful.
He never imagined the words that would resonate from friends and former wrestlers, who found Gerish’s coaching style, charisma and integrity a platform for the direction in their own lives.
Gerish, the father of three sons, Joseph, Patrick and Jacob, wants to watch his middle son, Patrick, wrestle at the University of Maryland. He also wants to spend more time with his youngest son, Jacob, who is 12.
“The kids grow up so fast,” said the reflective Gerish, who coached his two older sons at N.A. “I loved coaching at Newark Academy, and I enjoyed the rapport with the other coaches in the district and region. They’ll always be a part of my life, too.
“Honestly, I never expected anything like this. The good wishes and thoughts by so many are overwhelming. I can’t thank everyone enough.”
The coaches at District 14, and later, Region 4, appreciated Gerish’s class and commitment to his program, as well. This past season, he was named the Coach of the Year by both entities and last weekend was honored as one of the top eight coaches in the state at the NJSIAA championships in Atlantic City.
And Gerish’s last match as a coach came in the medal round, at the state tournament, as his prized 152 pound wrestler, Steve Bonsall, prevailed to earn a seventh place showing.
“I admit I was pretty nervous for that last match,” said Gerish. “I wanted Steve to finish with a good match. And he did a great job, as usual.”
When word came out that Gerish was going to step down, and subsequently was named a Coach of the Year by the district and region, the praises were noteworthy. And those sentiments extended to assistant coach, Gene Kelly, who also plans to move on from coaching.
“Jay and Gene are amazing coaches,” wrote Valerie Cordover Katz. “And Steve Bonsall is not just a phenomenal wrestler, but true gem of a person.”
Gerish, here with assistant coach Vin Angelone (left), star wrestler Steve Bonsall and assistant coach Gene Kelly (right) after Bonsall won a District 14 championship last month. (Courtesy of Bonsall family)
Mark Russo wrote, “Congratulations, Jay, on making a strong impact on so many young men’s lives, memories that will carry forever.”
Jay’s older brother, Joe, also praised his sibling, calling the outpouring, “well deserved.”
Gerish had some outstanding wrestlers compete for him. Jim Avola and Jerome Greco were each three time District 14 champions, as well as both winning a Region 4 title. Avola (Class of 2003) and Greco (2004) were three-time state tournament participants.
Greco was Newark Academy’s first state medalist, when he finished sixth in the state in 2004, at 125 pounds. He was also the Outstanding Wrestler at Region 4, in 2004.
Gerish also recalled Russell Horowitz, Avi Dunn, Craig Helfer, James McGann, Brendon Seyfried, Tom Jasterbeski, John Sternlicht, Patrick Gerish and Bonsall, as outstanding wrestlers for the program. Sternlicht was the second state medalist at N.A. during Gerish’s run, finishing seventh in the state at 160 pounds in 2008. Like Greco and Avola, Sternlicht was a three-time District 14 champ.
In 2016 Bonsall became the first four-time District 14 champ, and the third state medalist, in his school’s wrestling history.
Patrick Gerish is the school’s all time wins leader, with 143. He’s currently wrestling at the University of Maryland. Other N.A. wrestlers who won 100 matches in high school and later wrestled in college, include Sternlicht (140 wins), who attended Muhlenberg College, Seyfried, who won 133 and went to Williams College, Greco, (126 victories) who attended Columbia University, Avola (125 wins), who wrestled at Davidson College, Joseph Gerish, who had 102 wins in high school, and attended Trinity College and Helfer, who won 99 and played football at Dickinson College.
Bonsall, who will attend the University of Chicago, Sternlicht, Jasterberski and Seyfried were two-time Essex County champions while Greco, Helfer, McGann and Patrick Gerish each won one county title.
Newark Academy is known as a top-notch school for education, so it’s not surprising to see so many of Gerish’s wrestlers attend exceptional colleges and universities.
Now, let’s get back to those compliments.
While Ingrid Roth DiPasquale may be from Nutley, and her sons wrestled for the Maroon Raiders, her respect for Gerish was heartfelt.
“Jay is a coach that my son, who is now an assistant at Nutley, has always looked up to and admired,” wrote Ingrid. “Wishing him all the best, and congratulations on being voted Coach of the Year.”
Michelle Florio Campisi, the Queen of M & C, wrote glowingly of Gerish.
“They couldn’t have picked a better guy,” wrote Michelle. “I told him once we were growing old together … me in the bleachers , him in the corner . He smiled and said… He was aging faster than me. What a class act. I love this guy, he will surely be missed.”
Wendy Meyer-Goodwin wrote, “Wow, Jay. Good wrestling coaches are getting fewer and fewer. Dad loved you so much.”
“Congrats Jay, Coach Meyer would have been proud, but not surprised,” said Marty Meyer. (Wendy Meyer-Goodwin and Marty Meyer are the siblings of the late Dr. Frank ‘Dutch’ Meyer, Gerish’s legendary college wrestling coach at Catawba College, in Sailsbury, NC. Gerish has often credited Dr. Meyer as a beloved mentor and began his coaching career under Meyer’s tutelage).
“Good man,” said Chris Cuffari, of Gerish.
And Barbara Sisco wrote, “Congratulations, Jay, from all the Siscos.”
I first met Jay during his first season as head coach, in early 1998. He was always the best-dressed coach on the sidelines, and it didn’t take long to realize what a nice man he was, and continues to be, today. Before the start of the state tournament, every year, he’d give me a sealed envelope with his choices of who would win, in Atlantic City.
He was, and will always be, a wrestling junkie. His background on the sport was legendary.
“We go back a long way,” Jay said to me, before Bonsall’s last match, at Boardwalk Hall. “It’s been a great run. I appreciate everything.”
So do I, Jay, and, as I’m sure you’ve read, many others, too, will never forget your work.
Best of luck and I hope to see you at plenty of matches next year.