Billy Damiana first thought about coaching at his alma mater when he was a star wrestler at LowerCape MayRegionalHigh School.
Those thoughts have now turned into reality.
Damiana, Lower Cape May’s all-time wrestling wins leader, has been appointed as the school’s new head wrestling coach. Damiana was formally approved for the position at last Thursday’s regular meeting of the board of education.
Damiana replaces Rocky Ciccozzi, his head coach at Lower. Ciccozzi stepped down after 18 seasons in the program, the last 14 as head coach.
“I want to bring back to Lower what the program traditionally stood for,” Damiana said, “and that’s that we’re always tough. It didn’t matter if we had a good team or a not-as-good team, if you wrestled against a Lower kid you knew you were going to be in a dogfight for six minutes.”
Damiana, 26, is a 2009 graduate of Lower Cape May, where he starred in wrestling and football. He posted a 137-20 career wrestling record and placed among the top eight in the state championships at 215 pounds as a junior and senior. He was also a dominant two-way starter for the football team.
Damiana earned a scholarship to wrestle at Division I Cleveland State University, where he was a Greco-Roman All-American. Following a coaching change, he left ClevelandState after two seasons and finished his undergraduate schooling at KeanUniversity, where he played two seasons for the school’s Division III football team before graduating in 2014. Damiana was inducted into the Lower Cape May Regional Athletics Hall of Fame later that same year.
Damiana, a staff substitute teacher at Lower Cape May, has been involved in high school wrestling for the past few seasons. He helped train his younger brother, Cory, also a 100-win wrestler at Lower who is now at Division I Hofstra, and served as an assistant coach at St. Joseph in 2014-15 and at Buena for the past two seasons.
Damiana, whose undergraduate degree is in history, said he is close to obtaining a masters degree in holocaust and genocide at Kean.
It came as no surprise, then, for Damiana to make historical references to the Lower Cape May wrestling program. He cited the philosophies and the accomplishments of successful former wrestling and football coaches Bill Porter and Bill Garrison as the main engines that drove him to want to return to his alma mater and coach. Porter and Garrison coached at Lower in the 1970s and 1980s. Porter passed away earlier this decade.
“This program is extremely important to me,” he said. “Bill Porter and Bill Garrison meant everything to this program and I want to bring it back to its heyday like it was when they coached.
“Bill Porter was a hero to me. He was ill a lot when I was in high school but he made sure he made every single one of my matches. It made me feel really good to have him around. It’s always been a goal of mine to come back here and make him proud.”
Lower will be facing a rebuilding season next year. The team went 7-15 in dual matches and produced two state qualifiers in Mike Yorio and Alex Pruszinski, both seniors. Yorio was the Region 8 runner-up at 170 pounds.
“I want our kids to be tough and to push for the full six minutes every time they go out on the mat,” Damiana said. “I want kids to believe in themselves and try to accomplish things that maybe they didn’t think they could. I want them to be proud of where they come from.
“I always wanted to come back and be a teacher and a coach for the wrestling team. I wanted to be just like my dad (Bill) – a coach and teacher. This is what I’ve wanted to do. I can’t wait to get started.”