Fifty years ago, the Arlington High School varsity wrestling team made its debut in a match against the team from Wappingers’ school district.
Saturday, the Admirals will celebrate the anniversary of that first 1964-65 season with a ceremony, reception and, fittingly, a match against Roy C. Ketcham, now one of two teams from Wappingers.
The moment will be an opportunity to reunite past and present members of a program that has grown into a family, with a lineage passed down through generations.
“It’s going to be very special,” longtime Arlington coach Fred Perry said. “A lot of former wrestlers, former statisticians, sent me emails to tell me they’re coming.”
Assistant coach John Bautochka, who has taken the lead in organizing the event, said 35-40 former wrestlers confirmed they would attend as of Monday, and he estimates that number may double by Saturday.
Perry is one of only two head coaches in the program’s history, taking the reins before the 1982-83 season. The other, Bill Wright, birthed the idea for the celebration.
Arlington was in Florida last December to take part in the KSA Classic Duals Wrestling Tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, around 50 miles from where Wright lives in Daytona Beach. After Wright watched the Admirals wrestle — they won all six of their matches to win the title — the former coach went to dinner with the current coaches. It was then that he pointed out the approaching milestone.
“He said, ‘Why don’t we have a little celebration?’ ” said Perry, noting the program’s 25th anniversary event was held at LaGrange Middle School, the site of Arlington’s first match.
All alumni will be invited to come down from the stands and watch the 6 p.m. match from the mat. They’ll also be given commemorative T-shirts. Afterward, a private reception will be held at the Elks Lodge.
Wright will be in attendance. Since setting the date in October, Bautochka has exhausted every avenue to draw alumni, from signs posted within the school and emailed invitations, to Wright’s connections and years upon years of phone trees, to posting a message using his daughter’s Facebook account.
As a program, Arlington has always stressed the value of its heritage, and Bautochka also takes the lead on that each season by creating the “B Book.”
Within its pages, the book is a personalized diary of anecdotes, stories and results for each wrestler to remember their season, but it also includes a section on the history of the program with records and accomplishments.
Bautochka said he started the idea in his first season at the school, 1985-86, and Wright contributed a large amount of historical data he had kept. Each alum will receive an abbreviated version of the book Saturday.
“I think we have a great wrestling tradition,” Bautochka said. “I think sometimes when you give the kids ownership, they really do want to participate and wrestle for us. They like the idea of coming to a program where they know the coaches care, the coaches are going to make them the best they can be, and that they take ownership in it.”
Arlington has become a tradition in itself for several families in the area. Often, when one boy in a family begins in the program, his younger brothers will follow. In some cases, like the Robin family, those brothers will have kids who also end up wearing maroon-and-gold singlets.
In that tournament in Orlando last year, Brady Robin was named Most Outstanding Wrestler. His younger brother, Dennis Robin, is also on the team. Their dad, Dale Robin, wrestled for Perry and won a sectional title before graduating in 1986. He eventually became a wrestling official and worked several Arlington matches. Their uncle and Dale’s brother, Dave Robin, was a sectional champion and became the first Arlington graduate to reach the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, while competing for Rider.
Chris Clarke became the second such Admiral to reach the NCAA tournament in 2006, as a sophomore at Slippery Rock University.
In 1981, Scott Nichols placed second in the state in the 250-pound weight class, the best finisher for an Arlington wrestler at the state meet ever — until Jimmy Duckham won the program’s first title at 103 pounds in 2011.
The list of accomplishments, and list of families, from the Beckleys to the Graffs, goes on. “Grandfather Robin,” Perry said. “Still comes around. It’s a lot of fun.”
And through it all, Perry said Wright has been a mentor and a friend.
“He taught me a lot — how to run tournaments, how to figure around the best lineups for duel meets,” Perry said. “He was like an uncle.”
Arlington was already a successful program when Perry took over, he said, having won the sectional title the prior season. But, as a 26 year old who “wasn’t thinking much through of anything,” he could not have imagined what the program would become over the coming decades, or the celebration coming Saturday.
“With all these wrestlers and Bill coming up,” he said, “I really feel that this is going to be special.”
Mike Benischek: email@example.com, 845-437-4722, Twitter: @BenischekPJ