Wrestling Could Grab Hold Again

Coach Jim Stewart hopes his charges stick with it
After about a decade, Jim Stewart, at left, has retaken the varsity wrestling reins here, with the assistance of Steve Redlus, at right. Jack Graves

In the season just past, and last year as well, East Hampton High’s varsity wrestling team was reduced to a skeleton crew by the end of the campaign, but there is hope, according to Jim Stewart, who, when Anthony Piscitellowas hired away to teach in Brooklyn earlier this winter, retook the reins — about a decade after having given them up.

Stewart, who oversaw perennial league champions from the mid-1980s into the ’90s, found following the varsity season, to his delight, that 14 eighth graders and 22 seventh graders, “each one more enthusiastic than the other,” had come out for junior high wrestling, a turnout that has made East Hampton the biggest team in its league.

The veteran coach agreed that wrestling here was on its way back if one went by the numbers — the aforementioned 36 at the junior high level, and the 30 youngsters in the town’s KID program overseen by Bo Campsey and Brian Mott. 

“Our junior high team is larger than Eastport-South Manor . . . larger than all of them. I’m excited for the future. I’ll stick with it. I’ve already told Joe [Vas, East Hampton’s athletic director] and Adam [Fine, the high school’s principal] that I’m interested in coaching next year. It’s a labor of love for me.” 

An admittedly demanding sport, wrestling is rewarding in many ways. Stewart has been telling his charges, among other things, that “there is no better feeling in any sport than pinning someone. It’s better than a touchdown, better than a goal, better than a hole in one. . . . And when they do win by pin they’ll say, ‘Coach, you were right!’ ” 

“Wrestling’s benefits are many,” he continued. “It will make you a person who can persevere in difficult times — that’s built into the sport — but I tell the kids to focus on what they love about wrestling not on what’s hard about it. And being on a team is good, it’s good to be a part of something bigger than yourself, and it’s good to be a good sportsman.”

When this writer said he rarely recalled seeing a former wrestler out of shape in later life, Stewart said, “My dad, who’s 94,” and is in the national wrestling Hall of Fame, “can still do cross-body rides and cradles. He comes to some of our practices.”

On the varsity this winter, Stewart “ended up with six, the minimum you need for a legal dual meet. Some days we were really struggling to pull it together, but to their credit the six kids — Santi Maya and Caleb Peralta, both freshmen, chief among them — we took to an invitational meet at Stony Brook near the end of the season beat Lexington, a school for the deaf in New York City, and Stony Brook, 35-24.”

Maya placed third at 106 pounds in the league meet, and Peralta, at 125, “just missed placing. . . . Caleb had lost 15-6 to a kid from Hauppauge in a dual meet that didn’t count because we only had four that day, and then lost to him 10-7 in the league tourney. Santi, who had lost to Hauppauge’s Frank Volpe during the league season, beat him 

handily in the leagues to place third. He went 2-2 at the counties, losing close matches to kids who wound up finishing fifth and sixth.”

The junior high team, said Stewart, has been practicing in the high school’s wrestling room, and thus has the school’s trainer, Nick Jarboe, a former Bonac wrestler himself, near at hand, as well as the Kendall Madison fitness center nearby.

Asked why the junior high turnout had been so great, Stewart said John Ryan Jr. of the middle school, the Springs School’s athletic director, Whitney Reidlinger, and Steve Redlus, also of the middle school, who is Stewart’s assistant, have all been recruiting, as has he, in the high school’s hallways.

In the four-way junior high meets, which go unscored, Stewart said he tries in conferring beforehand with opposing coaches to match up wrestlers with similar skills and experience.

While some of his eighth graders, J.P. Amaden, an East Hamptoner, Marcus Krotman, a Pierson student, and Wayne Street, a transfer from William Floyd, in particular, were experienced, others, he said, were not.

“They’re learning a lot,” he said in parting. “They’re eager; they’re having great fun. That’s the key. I hope they all come out for the varsity next year.”

Jim Stewart has 36 on the East Hampton Middle School squad, “each one more enthusiastic than the other.” Jack Graves