Tuesday, December 18, 2007

WRESTLING THRIVES AT FARMINGTON

The Fall All-Herald section is out today and I think I can speak for the entire sports department at our paper when I say I'm damned proud of it. We all worked very hard and we're so pleased to honor some terrific student athletes.

We also included a King and Queen of the autumn season -- Newington football star Nathan Pagan and Plainville multi-sport dynamo Desiree Pina. In addition, we voted Southington girls soccer coach Sal Penta as Coach of the Fall. While there were many good choices, Coach Penta was an excellent one with what he and the Blue Knights accomplished in the face of adversity.

I have an early nominee for Coach of the Winter. We don't even know how his team is going to fare but it matters not because what Farmington wrestling coach Eric Misko has done spans the last few years. After seeing his Indians perform at their own invitational last Saturday, I'm sure they will be fine.

Misko, the athletic trainer at FHS, has put wrestling on the map in town by methodically building a program with some good old-fashioned elbow grease.

Farmington isn't like Southington, Berlin or Bristol when it comes to wrestling. There is no elaborate feeder system in place. As coaches came and went, the Indians had state-class wrestlers like Pawel Szajda now and then but almost always had holes in their lineup. Forfeits generally would pile up and Farmington was unable to compete for Northwest Conference superiority.

But Misko sold his sport to the kids persistently without being overbearing. Gradually, athletes came forward, enough to fill the 14 weight classes and win an NWC title. He systematically upgraded the schedule so that coaches of the traditionally elite programs could no longer charge the Indians weren't wrestling good competition.

Last year, Farmington went 29-2 and flirted with a top 10 ranking in the Norwich Bulletin's coaches poll. The Indians have lost some solid competitors to graduation (Mike Brignano, Jim Coyle and George Robinson primarily) but have a nucleus that will again challenge for a league title.

Some of the names that will headline articles in The Herald this winter are Luke Walsh, Evan Baily and Malcolm Yancey, who climbed to the top of the podium at the Indian Classic on Saturday. Others, like Eric Orrell, will undoubtedly emerge under Misko's sound tutelage.

The evidence that wrestling has graduated from winter pastime to a well-organized program lies in the list of wrestlers who come back. Chris Thomas is one of Misko's hard-working assistant coaches. Coyle, fifth in Class L at 189 last year, was among the dedicated workers at the Classic. Craig Suhre and Matt Jurkiewicz ably administered the tournament under the direction of Misko's colleague Kelly Stokoe, and they did it without the benefit of the software that crashed the night before.

Another assistant who has helped bring credibility to the program is Mike Daniels, a product of the fertile Bristol wrestling scene.

Yes, wrestling is alive and well at Farmington, and it's only going to get better.

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