Sunday, February 17, 2008


I've heard plenty about the lack of dedication and loyalty our younger generation demonstrates.

Yes, most of them aren't quite sure what life's all about. They think they're indestructable. They thrive on challenging authority. They appear to be listening when we speak to them, yet we know our advice is going in one ear and out the other.

How do I know? I was there once. I woke up one morning when I was in my 30s and shook my head. Wow, so that's what Mom and Dad meant.

One aspect of the education we provide our youngsters that fuels their voyage toward maturity are interscholastic sports. They encourage the student-athletes to work together toward a common goal, respect their opponents and acknowledge rules and regulations, which help us keep order in our society.

The team sports are especially geared to interpret our messages, but the sport that annually shows such great merit yet sometimes slips by unnoticed is wrestling.

Wrestlers have to maintain their weight, yet eat well so they have the strength and stamina to deal with their bi-weekly challenges. They have to be especially aware of hygiene, with skin ailments like impetigo and ringworm always lurking.

The mental and physical challenges are so acute that I sometimes wonder how coaches find enough kids willing to sacrifice their time at the mall, extra-large orders of fries, jobs and interpersonal relationships to commit to a team.

There were four gyms full of such dedicated student-athletes Friday night and Saturday when the state scholastic wrestling sub-culture convened at Trumbull (Class LL), Bristol Central (L), Windham (M) and St. Bernard (S) high schools for their respective tournaments.

From a local perspective, we have champions.

Southington’s Doug Fontaine continued his family’s rich wrestling legacy by claiming the 103-pound title in ‘LL.’ Berlin’s Jon Fiorillo – intense, focused and mature beyond his years – continued his quest for an unbeaten season by blowing by four foes at 160.

Farmington’s Luke Walsh put another feather in the war bonnet of Indians coach Eric Misko by winning an ‘L’ title at 119.

In Windham, Plainville’s Mario Acca powered his way to the 160 title, setting up perhaps another encounter with Fiorillo at the State Open in New Haven next Saturday.

And there’s T.J. Magnoli of Rocky Hill grabbing his second 145-pound ‘S’ crown in two years, and probably the most overlooked of the group because Hill was down as a team this year. Magnoli’s coach Joe Gaboury says it best about his star and the sport in general.

“T.J. is a great wrestler because he has completely dedicated himself to the pursuit of excellence in the sport,” Gaboury said. “He never stops learning and growing in the sport. T.J. puts in the time to be a champion.”

But it’s not only about the champions.

There are the dedicated placewinners and future champions like Justin Roncaioli of Berlin. He could have quit when he lost in the championship round but he ran the grueling consolation gauntlet and captured team points by taking sixth place.

Others who earned respect through similar performances are Berlin’s Cameron Banks, Ben Brody of Farmington and his young teammate Sean O’Connell (sophomore) who went 4-2 to take fifth at 189.

How about Plainville freshman Matthew Tanner, who battled his way to third place in Class M at 112? Do you think Matthew learned something Saturday that he will take with him the rest of his life?

Berlin sophomore Ryan Bisson, New Britain junior Nick Giallucca and Southington senior Joe Dupuis, who made a breathtaking run in his final state tournament, are also on the list.

To these warriors, I tip my cap. These, my friends, are our future leaders, and the sport of wrestling can sure build them. They respect their opponents, the decisions of the referees and the judgment of some of the best coaches in the realm of scholastic sports.

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