Boardwalk Hall has become a place where wrestling traditions are remembered. An arena where 14 NJSIAA champions are crowned, but also a place where the work of the 336 wrestlers that reached Atlantic City is honored.
“Are you ready?” were three words a myriad amount of mothers asked their sons this weekend. Every wrestler answered pretty much the same way. “Of course I’m ready, I’ve worked too hard not to be ready.”
The Shore does not always go home with a champion. Not everyone goes home a winner. UFC fighters Frank Edgar and Nick Catone and Kurt Pellegrino wrestled in the state tournament. They had the drive. They had the desire. But they did not win a championship. In the state of New Jersey, that’s not an easy thing to do.
And so fans from across the state come down to see what has become quite a show. Springsteen and McCartney perform here. The apparel of the fans in the stands gave away which superstars were performing in Boardwalk Hall this weekend.
Many old friends use this weekend to get together, catch up and watch wrestling. They come from Phillipsburg and Paulsboro, from Bergen Catholic and Brearly, from the Delaware Water Gap to the Delaware Memorial Bridge.
T shirts full of Paramus power, and “my dad was a state champ”, and New Jersey’s No. 1 ranked team (Bergen Catholic) and “Go Dillon” were just a sampling of what dominated the bleachers.
The Shore had Southern Regional’s Zack Wilhelm wrestle away three years of frustration when he placed fifth at 145 pounds. After disappointment ended Zack’s sophomore and junior seasons, the senior got to go out on top with a victory.
” I’m so proud of you,” were the first words his coach John Stout threw at him before his hand was raised.
The Shore had Wall sophomore Brett Donner place third at 152-pounds. A bright-eyed kid who smiled and shared through split lips that the first time he walked into Boardwalk Hall he said “oh my god, this place is so huge.”
While Donner was having his third-place hand raised, Toms River’s first wrestling coach, John Nemetz, was sitting at a table doing his job as official score keeper for the seventh-eighth place bouts.
And the Shore had Jackson Liberty’s Mike Russo, who posted two pins to place third after losing his Saturday semifinal, 1-0.
And the Shore had 18 place-winners overall … which is three more than a year ago. If you don’t realize how important winning a medal is, you should see the emotional pain that invades the young men whose Atlantic City dreams end one win short of a medal.
The Shore’s first Atlantic City state champ was Jackson Memorial’s Rob Johnson, who shutout Southern Regional’s future state champ Bryan Stout (John’s younger, but not smaller brother) , 5-0, in the 1991 171-pound final back when the venue was called Convention Hall.
This weekend, it was a good thing Boardwalk Hall has a cavernous, high ceiling to muffle the shouts of excitable mothers. St. Peter’s Prep had two twins both advance to the state semi-finals which only added to the decibel leve.
State champs … Region VI will have a few more of them down the road. Winners …. there are those every year.