GTMS grapples with success as first-year wrestling program

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GALLOWAY – A decade ago, Absegami High School was a “monster” of high school wrestling in New Jersey, devouring the competition on its way to four straight Group IV championships, numerous individual titles, and a No. 1 national ranking in 2003.

Now, Galloway Township has a new youth wrestling program in place, ready to help feed the Absegami wrestling monster and sustain that dominant swagger.

The Galloway Township Middle School Grizzlies are a first-year “club” wrestling program that is getting plenty of support and already grappling with success at the inter-scholastic level.

Thanks to the generosity of sponsors and the support of the local wrestling community, the program raised more than $10,000 last year to start the program and purchase a brand new wrestling mat. More than 100 people showed their support at a Board of Education meeting, where the board approved the team to start competing last fall.

Eighth-grader Felix Torres remembers an assembly in gym class at the start of the school year when he first caught the wrestling bug.

“They showed us all the new sports they were offering,” said Torres, who had played soccer for several years. “I wanted to try something new and I ended up loving it.”

Torres is a co-captain of the youth wrestling team. He has quickly caught on to the sport, using his exceptional quickness and footwork to enjoy success at the 80-pound level.

“It’s like a combination of team and individual sport,” he said. “You can start at any age and end up really good. It doesn’t matter where you start.”

Torres, 14, has turned parents Daniel and Martha into instant wrestling fans, taking them to wrestling matches all over the area. He tapes matches on TV and studies wrestling moves on YouTube.

It is starting to pay off. He finished second for a silver medal at the Cape-Atlantic Middle School championships on Feb. 12 at Ocean City High School. Teammates Michael Waszen and Owen Bowles each won their respective weight classes and were named to the all-tournament team. James Giegold and Andrew Marcucci joined Torres as silver medalists, while Danny Manka, Steven Waszen and Kevin Watson each took home bronze medals.

There are currently 30 wrestlers on the team, a turnout that many high school programs would envy. Many of them have also shown improvement in the classroom, said coach John O’Kane, a teacher’s aide at GTMS.

Many local businesses have sponsored the program, including the Dubliner, Waszen Brothers Inc., Wimberg Funeral Home, South Jersey Chiropractic, B & J Recycling, Living Well Wholistic Center, and Big G's House of Ink. Ken Sherman, a season-ticket holder for Penn State wrestling, donated $500 and came out to help with coaching on occasion, O’Kane said. Dr. Jeffrey Gong, Frank Rudisill and Vince DeSantis also made personal contributions, and Absegami's Booster Club also contributed.

Next year, the Grizzlies expect to officially compete as a varsity team at the middle school level. Torres will have moved on to high school by then, where he hopes to be absorbed into a new tradition of Absegami wrestling dominance.

“I’m really looking forward to starting high school,” he said. “Absegami has a great wrestling program, and things are going to be really exciting. I’m definitely going to stick with wrestling.”

Galloway Township Middle School Wrestling Team roster

Felix Torres (captain), Kevin Murray, Danny Manka, Andres Arteaga, Justin Gubbins, James Giegold, Nick Calimer, A.J. Langel, Brandon Richardson, Jake Galushka, Isaiah Crosby-Mullins, Jovan Wimberg, Andrew Marcucci, Michael Waszen (captain), Joyce Ntuk, Anthony Rosario, Steven Waszen, Conor Hughes, Riley Blankenship, Andrew Hart, Pat Moran, Syhee Glover (captain), Ramson Watson, Kevin Watson, Chris Yip, Brad Chorpenning, Owen Bowles, and Jordan Durazzi (manager).

Coaches: John O'Kane and Dave Martin.

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