Steve Silverberg wasn’t even supposed to be a wrestler.
The son of a swim coach in Pomona, he grew up excelling in the pool and knew very little about grappling.
“It’s kind of ironic,” Silverberg said. “When I got to junior high, there was no swim team. The wrestling coach saw me in gym class and suggested that I give it a try.”
That coach was Tom Canty, who started the wrestling program at Ramapo High School in 1969. He was on the lookout for athletes who profiled well on the mat, and the young Silverberg fit the bill.
“I was told we have this kid down here who is a really good athlete and a good prospect for wrestling,” Canty recalled. “He was a special kid. His family is great people. They’re down to earth, but they’re very competitive.”
Silverberg turned out to be a natural and became one of only three freshmen to ever make varsity under Canty. He went on to win a New York state championship his senior year in 1975 – he remains the last wrestler from Ramapo to win one – and wrestle at the University of Virginia, where he was twice named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
On Saturday at the Pearl River Elks Club in Nanuet, Silverberg will be recognized for his outstanding career when he’s inducted into the Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame.
“It means a lot,” said Silverberg, who lives in Potomac, Maryland, with his wife, Gloria, but will be in attendance on Saturday with much of his family. “I’m honored and humbled that the things I accomplished 40 years ago are still remembered. I’m very appreciative and grateful.”
Silverberg credits much of his success to Canty – “I am incredibly indebted to him,” he said – and the strength of the entire Ramapo team in those years.
“There were a ton of Rockland County legends on that team,” he said. “I would argue that the 1972 team might have been the best team ever from Rockland County. People will argue against it because we didn’t win the counties that year – we lost a dual meet to Suffern – but we avenged some of those losses at sectionals.”
He may have a point. In 1972, Ramapo had three state finalists – Joe Goldsmith, Jim Horvath and Willie Manning – with Goldsmith and Horvath winning titles. That’s pretty much unheard of today.
Silverberg learned from those upperclassmen and reached the state semifinals the following year as a sophomore. By the time he was a senior, he was the Most Outstanding Wrestler in Section 9 (before Rockland teams moved to Section 1) and a state champion.
His most memorable match came in the state quarterfinals that year.
“I was actually down by five points with 14 seconds left to go,” Silverberg said. “I escaped, threw a pancake and threw the guy to his back.”
It was originally called a pin, but officials ruled that time had expired. It didn’t matter because Silverberg’s flurry in the final seconds was still good for six points, giving him a miraculous 11-10 decision.
Canty recalls it as one of the most exciting matches he ever witnessed, but what really stood out to him was how tranquil Silverberg remained in the aftermath.
“Steve is a very thoughtful person,” he said. “The referee hit the mat at the buzzer for the pin, but the other coach said the buzzer was before the pin. I went running over to talk to them at the table, and Steve was just sitting there in the middle of the mat very calm. I’ll never forget that. That’s just how he is.”