Story and Photos by Art Petrosemolo
Red Bank – Find your way to Red Bank Regional High School cafeteria on Tuesday evenings and you’ll be surprised to see upwards of 70 first to eighth graders learning wrestling moves and takedowns from volunteer coaches.
Come to a home match on a Thursday evening and you may think it is organized mayhem as three mats will have matches being run simultaneously, when the Jr. Bucs team hosts programs from neighboring communities. Upwards of 100 matches can be run during the evening.
The three-year-old program runs for eight weeks in the winter under the mentorship of RBRHS athletic director Louis “Del” Dal Pra.
“A group of local parents came to me four years ago,” Dal Pra said, “and asked if I would help put together a wrestling feeder program for the high school. RBRHS was at a disadvantage with their inter-scholastic wrestling program as surrounding towns all had junior programs feeding kids who knew wrestling basics, and also had competed for several years, into the high school program.”
Junior wrestling programs serve like little league baseball, age group swimming, football, soccer and softball leagues in teaching children the basic skills of the sport and letting them compete and learn in a controlled environment.
“The model program for the area was Brick High School,” Dal Pra said, “and we looked closely at the organization in putting together the Red Bank program.”
With a group of interested parents as the catalyst, Dal Pra started the program in 2009 with 40 wrestlers from kindergarten to sixth grade. The second year, the program expanded to 70 wrestlers through eighth grade and they competed in the prestigious Jersey Shore Junior Wrestling League. And to everyone’s surprise, Red Bank finished fourth in its division its first year.
Now established in its third year, the older wrestlers (7th and 8th grade) are coached by Tom Van Sickell and John Doherty of Little Silver, and Greg Devine of Shrewsbury.
Pat Tedeschi, one of the high school assistant coaches, along with Bruce Stambaugh and Greg Perffeto, coaches the first graders through sixth graders.
Dal Pra, who sets up the facility each week and works with high school students and wrestlers to help serve as timers and mentors, said that the coaches find time -using the vehicle of wrestling – to talk to the kids about sportsmanship and nutrition.
The children only wrestle competitors their own weight in practice and meets. At a Thursday evening meet with three or four teams, a junior wrestler can compete two or even three times.
“Our first through six graders wrestle three one-minute periods,” Dal Pra explained, “with on mat officiating just like high school and college events. Team scores are not kept, but we try to keep individual wrestlers’ records.”
Six year-old Conor Doogan, Shrewsbury, is in his second year of wrestling. Like many of his teammates, Doogan competes in a variety of organized sports year-round but even while competing this winter on the Y swim team, chooses to continue wrestling.
“Conor’s uncles, my brothers, Andy and Bryan Doherty were both wrestlers at Rumson-Fair Haven and state champions,” Doogan’s mother Colleen said. “Wrestling has always been a big part of our family and I’m pleased Conor wanted to get involved and he loves it.”
Besides Thursday matches, the junior wrestlers can compete in Saturday tournaments for their age and weight throughout the winter in both Monmouth and Ocean counties.
The programs first participants are just reaching the eighth grade and high school coach Scott Ferris looks forward to welcoming them to his program in the coming years allowing him to help refine their skills and not start with just the basics.
Spectators are welcome at home events. For more information about the program, contact Louis Dal Pra at: firstname.lastname@example.org