The process moved quicker than anyone thought it would, but the now has a wrestling team.
The unanimously approved the program Monday at its regular meeting at the middle school following a presentation by Principal Sharon Kurtz, Assistant Principal Carl Dolente and Classroom Assistant John O’Kane.
And that’s how wrestling came to the middle school for the first time in its history.
“We’re not the first to have tried this,” said O'Kane, a former wrestler for Absegami who has covered the sport as a beat writer for The Press of Atlantic City. “People say five or six years ago someone tried, and 15 years ago, someone tried. But we crossed all our t’s and dotted all our i’s. We had sponsors all lined up, and we had all the information. We wanted to make it as hard as possible to vote this down.”
Board of Education President Ernest Huggard said the last time someone tried to bring wrestling to the school district, the two factors holding it back were money and lack of interest among students.
This time, the amount of money it would cost the district was a round number everyone enjoyed: $0.
The total cost to start up the wrestling program is $10,655. However, the middle school was able to line up 13 sponsors to shoulder the entire burden, including the Booster Club, which donated $5,900, as well as the cost of a part-time coaching assistant.
Other sponsors included O’Kane and Dolente, Rudisill, South Jersey Chiropractic, Wimberg Funeral Home, Big G’s Ink, , Waszen Brothers, B&J Recycling, Living Well, and Dr. Gong, among others.
“Money was not an issue and there’s a larger interest,” said Huggard, who added that prior to the last vote, $2 million had been cut out of the school board budget and adding sports programs was not on the agenda. “We didn’t have the money to support them. We had to cut some of the ones we had.”
Those pushing for the program also had the backing of the Absegami, St. Joe, Cedar Creek and Holy Spirit high school wrestling programs. The cafeteria at the middle school where Monday night's meeting was held was packed with supporters.
“To have them here is really neat,” O’Kane said. “They’ve seen what the sport can do for people.”
Seeing what it can do for people is what convinced Kurtz it was a good idea.
According to Kurtz, the idea had been proposed previously, but really began to take shape about a month ago, when she, O’Kane and another teacher were in her office talking to a student who was having difficulties. Kurtz said the subject of wrestling was brought up, and the student’s entire demeanor changed.
“And then the Absegami coach (Shawn Scannell) talked to him, and it changed again,” Kurtz said. “He started to listen. Wrestling builds character. It builds self reliance, self confidence, the team aspect and having it would balance the number of male and female sports we have, making us Title IX compliant.”
Absegami has a history of success on the high school wrestling scene. The Braves have a long and illustrious history of crowning team and individual state champions, but until now, the Galloway Township Athletic Association served as the school’s only youth wrestling system.
Next year, that will all change, although the middle school will only have a club team.
“Depending on how it goes in the first year, we’ll talk about continuing at the interscholastic level,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Annette Giaquinto said, adding that cost will also be a factor moving forward.
The bulk of the cost comes in the first year, in procuring a wrestling mat. The program would be covered under the student accident policy.
“This is really important to students and parents,” Huggard said. “I didn’t see anything I didn’t like.”
No one on the board did. No one even had any questions during the presentation, prompting Kurtz to remark, “I either did a really good job or I did a really bad job,” with the presentation.
A few minutes later, when the board voted to approve the program, it became obvious which one it was.
And that might just be how a new wrestling tradition was born.