It was a celebratory scene one has seen often with a Camden High School winter sports athletic team.
Only this was not for Camden’s storied boys basketball program.
This was for a Camden High School wrestler. That’s right, a Camden High School wrestler.
Andrew Stevens, a senior heavyweight, had just become Camden’s first state wrestling champion with a 3-0 win over Robbinsville’s Tyler Gildner at Boardwalk Hall.
As soon as Stevens walked off the mat, he was surrounded by members of his family, friends, Camden coaches and Camden fans. Many hugs were exchanged. The long one between Stevens and his mother, both of whom were crying, came close to bringing tears to those in the media who were waiting to interview Stevens.
“It means so much to me for me to have people there I don’t even know,” said Stevens, after he had come off the medal stand and had taken pictures of him holding his championship bracket sheet with family and friends. “I have no words in my heart.”
Stevens (37-0), who escaped and had a takedown in the first 46 seconds of the second period and then rode out Gildner, the brother of Robbinsville head coach and former Southern Regional state champion Rich Gildner, was far from speechless.
“It’s awesome,” said Stevens, when asked to describe his emotions. “I won. It took a long time. I was getting so frustrated waiting for my match to start and just getting to this point.”
Stevens almost did not get to this point because of a mix-up Saturday night amongst his coaches over the time of the semifinals.
The Camden coaches thought the semifinals were at 7 p.m., instead of 5 p.m, Stevens was 90 seconds away from forfeiting his semifinal bout because he was not in Boardwalk Hall. The Camden coaches received urgent calls from members of the Camden team that the 220-pounders were on deck in the semifinals. and that Stevens better get to Boardwalk Hall.
Stevens, who was with Camden’s 38-year head coach Hedley Thame in Ventnor, began a mad dash to the arena with Thame driving. Stevens ran into Boardwalk Hall with 1:30 left on the five minutes that was allotted for him to be on the mat when the semifinal bouts were called. Stevens finished putting his singlet on after he was at the mat.
There was no chance of that kind of mix-up happening on Sunday. The finals were at 3 p.m.
“I got here a little earlier (Sunday), at least at 1 o’clock, at least 1:15,” said Stevens, with a smile on his face.
And now the city on the Delaware River across from Philadelphia in the Southwest part of the state that has boys basketball legends, like Milt Wagner and his son DaJuan, Billy Thompson, Kevin Walls and “Itchy” Smith, has a new legend. And it is a wrestler.
“It means the world to me because I’m the first,” said Stevens, when asked what it meant to be Camden’s first state champion. “You can’t say anything else. I’m the first. Now, who’s next? I don’t know. But, somebody’s coming. I believe the younger generation is going to come up.”
Most of the 14 championship bouts were close. Five bouts were decided by a point. Four were decided by two points, including three of the four overtime bouts.
The most anticipated final was the 152-pound one between St. Augustine Prep’s Jack Clark and Hunterdon Central’s Gary Dinmore.
Clark was a three-time Maryland state champion at McDonogh High School and a two-time National Prep champion, before the Washington Township native and resident transferred to St. Augustine last fall.
Dinmore had lost to South Plainfield’s four-time unbeaten state champion Anthony Ashnault in state finals the last two years.
The bout lived up to its hype. Clark won 3-1 on a takedown with 30 seconds left in the first overtime.
Throughout the fast-paced bout, Clark would try to get in on Dinmore and Dinmore would defend fiercely. Dinmore was close to getting the winning takedown off a wild scramble with four seconds left in regulation. He was originally given the takedown, but it was waived off.
The winning takedown came off a restart with 41 seconds left and was on the right edge of the mat.
“I was pumped when I won. I’m going to be happy for a long time,” Clark said.
Dinmore now joins the short list of the best wrestlers never to win a state title. He lost his three state finals to unbeaten wrestlers by a combined six points.
“He was amazing. He really knew what he was doing out there,” Clark said. “I’m usually really good with my shots. I was barely getting in on any. He just was very aware.”
Another high-quality bout was the one at 182 between Bergen Catholic’s Johnny Sebastian and Brearley’s Joey Balboni.
Sebastian won 6-4 on a takedown with 22 seconds left in the first overtime to become New Jersey’s 28th three-time state champion. That list includes four-time state champions Mike Grey of Delbarton, Andrew Campolattano and Ashnault.
Sebastian had a takedown in the first period. Balboni had one in the second periodo was in on Sebastian several times from late in the second period, but Sebastian was able to fight them off, including one he whizzered out of early in the overtime.
Sebastian was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler.
Other state champions were Bound Brook’s Craig De la Cruz (126), North Bergen’s Anthony Giraldo (132), Paulsboro’s Ronnie Gentile (138), Dave McFadden (145), East Brunswick’s Jonathan Schleifer (160), Roxbury’s Dillon Artigliere (170), Montgomery’s Anthony Cassar (195), Delsea’s Bryan Dobzanski (220), Delbarton’s Ty Agaisse (106), Bergen Catholic’s Nick Suriano (113) and Hanover Park’s Anthony Cefolo (120).
De la Cruz, Giradlo, Artigliere, Dobzanski and Suriano are all repeat champions. Cefolo also won his second championship. He won one in 2012. Suriano is 83-0 for his career.
De la Cruz won on a takedown over Don Bosco Prep’s Kyle Bierdumpfel on a takedown with five seconds left in the second portion of the second overtime. Cassar, who beat Franklin’s Ralph Normandia, 4-1, in double overtime, is Montgomery’s first state champion.