Thursday, January 31, 2008


Wrestling, like most of the sports our high schoolers play, has a culture all its own.

In some towns, it's just another sport. In towns like Berlin, it falls someplace between politics and religion.

Former Berlin wrestling coach Jim Day, now the school's athletic director, is primarily responsible for establishing the foundation and building one of the more prestigious programs in Connecticut.

On Wednesday, the Redcoats hosted Bacon Academy in a clash between two of the top six teams in the state. The main event was the 171-pound battle between two undefeated gladiators headed for the limelight of the State Open stage -- Berlin's Jon Fiorillo and Sean Burgess from Bacon.

There aren't many seats in Berlin's auxiliary gym but most of them were filled by fans from both schools. Rhythmic chants for each wrestler filled the air as they sought to gain leverage for victory.

Day sat in the corner of the gym away from the grandstands, occasionally offering advice in that high-pitched voice of reason that Berlin wrestlers past and present have tuned in for generations. But Day now plays the program's grandfather to the role of "father" now ably played by new coach Dave Tremblay.

It was Senior Night. Emotion fueled the sixth-ranked Redcoats' charge as they jumped out to a big lead and dismantled Bacon, 39-25. Fiorillo (36-0) turned back Burgess (35-1) in the feature bout, but every Berlin wrestler to a man either posted a hard-earned win or did their best to keep the Bobcats' damage to a minimum.

As the state's fourth-ranked team, Bacon came in figuring this was a match it could win. Burgess, in the wake of his first loss of the year, offered the Bobcats' perspective.

"We know we can pretty much hang with anybody in the state, except maybe Danbury," he said. "We came out, wrestled kind of flat, and Berlin's a great team. We knew nothing was going to be given to us. They wrestled really well."

Tremblay experienced all the benefits of Day's philosophy as a state-class wrestler and a long-time assistant coach. He's proven to be an astute successor to his mentor's roost and knows how Senior Night can urge a grappler to put forth his best effort, even after a lackluster performance in Lowell, Mass., against New England's best on Saturday.

"Two things could have happened," he said. "After this weekend the way we lost, we could have come out here and taken the apple, felt sorry for ourselves. Or we could have done what we did, which was step it up a notch and wrestle well."

Tremblay wasn't expecting to beat either defending N.E. champion Lowell or perennial powerful Timberlane (N.H.), but the Redcoats were uncharacteristically passive in losing to the two out-of-state teams and second-ranked Ledyard by a point.

"Monday and Tuesday practice wasn't easy after this weekend," Tremblay continued. "I didn't expect to go up there and beat (Lowell and Timberlane) but I didn't expect us to lose the way we did. That was my issue.

"If we lose just because they're better, that's fine, but we got out-toughed in certain situations and they took six shots to our none. If we're gonna lose the match, we want to take a piece of them and let them know who they wrestled. We didn't do that on Saturday. ... We wrestled the singlet and not the wrestler."

Two things are certain after the Bacon win.

Primarily, Berlin's wrestlers got the message. Brothers Jack and Cameron Banks (152 and 160 respectively) were exceptional in gaining extra team points by posting major decisions over quality competition.

Ethan Berube's pin of Dan Thompson at 145 gave Berlin an early and vital leg up. Chris Solek's pin at 130 was after Berlin had clinched the match but shouldn't be overlooked.

J.R. Dynak (215) was losing to Matt Mercado when he took advantage of an opening and refused to let his foe escape when he had him on his back. Ryan Bisson's 3-0 win at 125 put Berlin over the top. Give Tremblay credit for choosing the top position for the second period because Bisson earned his points on a nearfall.

Then there are the Redcoats who lost but fought gallantly, mainly senior Jamie Luczynski who dropped a hard-fought 6-4 verdict at 189.

The other message that came out of a magnificent night of wrestling is that Day and his search committee made a great choice in finding a successor.

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