ROSELLE PARK – At 8:32 p.m. on Friday night, Jan. 19, 2018, Roselle Park became just the fourth program in the country and only the second in New Jersey to produce 1,000 varsity wrestling victories.
Roselle Park standout junior Mark Montgomery, wrestling up a weight class at 132, clinched a 44-23 Union County Conference-Watchung Division home victory over Scotch Plains by winning his match against Jacob Perone by fall in 4:28.
This Roselle Park-Scotch Plains match was originally scheduled to take place at Scotch Plains.
“I contacted Scotch Plains Athletic Director Ryan Miller Monday night and asked him if it were possible – should we beat Cranford Wednesday night – that we could host Friday night’s match to have a chance at getting our 1,000th win at home,” Roselle Park Athletic Director James Foy said. “He was more than gracious in allowing it to happen.”
Roselle Park’s next three matches are scheduled to take place Saturday in the 6th annual Marine SSGT Joe D’Augustine Charity Tournament at Waldwick High School.
Roselle Park wrestlers didn’t disappoint Friday night as they produced victory No. 1,000 in their own T. Ralph “Pug” Williams Gymnasium, winning 10 of the 13 bouts contested.
Williams was Roselle Park’s first wrestling coach. He had a record of 146-43-4 in his first 23 seasons at the helm – which included only one losing season – and then gained seven more wins for a total of 153 after he came back for one more season.
A true pioneer to high school wrestling in the Garden State, Williams was considered “Mr. Wrestling” in New Jersey for everything he did for the sport.
Roselle Park’s program began in 1935, with wrestling officially being adopted as a regular sport in January of 1936.
Roselle Park’s first win was over Union by a score of 20.5 to 19.5. The official name of the team was Union Seconds.
Eighty two years later Roselle Park joined former longtime Group 1 nemesis Paulsboro as the only New Jersey programs to attain the grand milestone.
Andy Fortunato, 89, became Roselle Park’s fourth of seven two-time state champions in 1945 when he won the NJSIAA Tournament’s crown at 134. He won at 95 his freshman year in 1943.
Fortunato wrestled at 121 his sophomore year, finishing second in the state, and at 145 his senior year, graduating from Roselle Park in 1946.
“We always had a good team, especially the light weights,” said Fortunato, a Kenilworth resident, who attended Friday night’s match along with numerous other former wrestlers and coaches from all eras. “I love wrestling. If I had to do it all over I would do it again.”
Fortunato saw wrestling as a sport he could adapt to because of his lightweight stature.
“I wanted to play other sports like football or basketball, but at 95 pounds I just couldn’t,” Fortunato said. “I started wrestling before high school and loved it immediately.
“I loved the contact, being on the mat by your self and it also helped build character.”
All seven of Roselle Park’s two-time state champions wrestled for Williams, who was at the helm from 1936-1957 and again for one year in 1963.
“He was a great coach,” Fortunato said.
Fortunato said that he and other wrestlers formed a Roselle Park Grapplers Team, which wrestled YMCAs.
Fortunato also reached the 1948 Olympic Trials, placing 5th in Ames, Iowa.
Roselle Park’s third wrestling coach was 1958 Roselle Park graduate Ernest Finizio, who resides in Vero Beach, Fla. Not wanting to miss Friday night’s match, Finizio, despite his first flight being cancelled, still managed to attend.
Finizio and Fortunato are first cousins.
“This is really unbelievable for the size of the school that Roselle Park is,” said Finizio, who guided Roselle Park to 62 wins in six seasons at the helm of the Panthers from 1964-1969.
“There was always the support from the community, the recreation program and the middle school – that was the total program, not just the high school,” Finizio said. “The support has always been amazing.”
Like Fortunato before him, Finizio was a lightweight himself when he entered Roselle Park High in the mid-1950s.
“I was too light to wrestle my first two years, I only weighed 78 pounds,” Finizio said. “However, Coach Williams said to me that before I leave Roselle Park I would win a championship.”
“Finizio got up to 98 pounds by the time he was a senior and wrestled at 103, fulfilling Williams’ prophecy. He was a district champion his senior year.
“Coach Williams made me ref the trials and I became the youngest official to ref the state finals, I think at about age 23,” Finizio recalled.
After graduating from Seton Hall, Finizio served as Williams’ assistant in 1963 – the one year that Williams came back to coach – before Finizio took over for the 1963-1964 season.
“Coaching at Roselle Park was an honor,” Finizio said. “To be able to come back to the school and work with such tremendous people was really great.
“There was so much support from the recreation group and the parents. That was probably the biggest factor for all of the success.”
During Frank Antonelli’s 11th and final season as head coach the Panthers captured the very first Group 1 state championship wrestled on the mats, with Roselle Park defeating Paulsboro in the 1982 Group 1 final.
Sam Appello, who now resides in New Mexico, is a Roselle Park graduate from the 1970s who was the head coach from 1983-2002. He is the program’s No. 1 coach in wins with 286.
Appello’s son Dan became the fourth Union County Tournament four-time winner and second from Roselle Park – Craig Frost was the first.
Arguably Appello’s best team was his 1996-1997 squad that went 18-0-1 and wrestled Paulsboro to a 33-33 tie in the Group 1 final at Cresskill. As a result, Roselle Park and Paulsboro – since each team won seven bouts – shared the Group 1 state championship that winter.
Roselle Park’s closest regular season match that year was a 43-24 win at 4-0 Rahway on Jan. 10, making the Panthers 7-0 three weeks into the season.
Paulsboro had won the Group 1 state championship outright every year from 1983-1996.
John Ranieri, a 1991 Roselle Park graduate who wrestled for Appello and coached under him, was elevated to succeed Appello as head coach for the 2002-2003 season. His final seaaon was 2015-2016 after 242 wins.
Ranieri guided Roselle Park to its last three North 2, Group 1 sectional state championships, all four of its Central Jersey, Group 1 sectional state championships and its last three UCT titles.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be a small part of this as a wrestler, an assistant coach, a head coach and now as a community member,” Ranieri said. “Roselle Park is an amazing place in a lot of different ways.”
Ranieri now has the title of Planning Committee for the UCT, which continues to be held for one Saturday in mid-January at Union High School.
“Kids grow up here and in a large part we use sports or wrestling as a vehicle so that they can contribute to society and become great, young men,” Ranieri said.
Present Roselle Park head coach Ryan Rooney, who is not a RP alum – he graduated from Cedar Grove in 2003 – was proud of the way his team remained focus amidst all of the 1,000 victory hoopla that was prevalent this week.
Roselle Park bounced back from finishing second in last Saturday’s UCT at Union by only two points to three-time defending champion Cranford to defeating Cranford at home Wednesday night to set up Friday night’s eventual home win over Scotch Plains.
Roselle Park’s first two Watchung Division matches – each resulting in victory – improved the team’s record to 11-1 overall.
“First and foremost I want to thank Scotch Plains for what they did in allowing us to wrestle this match at our gym tonight,” Rooney said. “To switch is not easy, especially when you don’t have that many home matches to begin with.”
When Rooney, now in his second season as head coach, interviewed for the position, he knew the program was deep in tradition going way back.
“This is a great thing for the community,” Rooney said. “Since 1935 Roselle Park wrestlers have been banging heads. That’s tradition.
“I’m just a small part of it. It’s always the program above ourselves.”
As for the match, there were some exciting Roselle Park victories. Moving up to heavyweight was senior Sean Matthews, who scored a 3-1 victory to trim Scotch Plains’ lead at the time to 17-16.
“Sean went up against a kid (Walter Thomas) who outweighed him by 45 pounds,” Rooney said. “Sean scored what he could.
“It was a total team effort.”
Roselle Park defeated Cranford 33-25 Wednesday night in its first Watchung Division match.
“Sometimes losing is the best thing for preparing and our kids were prepared for Cranford Wednesday night,” Rooney said. “They wanted to get back at Cranford and they did.
“We tried to put the 1,000th victory thing out of our minds as best as we could. We just won another dual match in mid-January and now we want to continue to improve the rest of the way for the championships that lie ahead.”
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-WATCHUNG DIVISION
WRESTLING AT ROSELLE PARK HIGH SCHOOL
145: Dylan Camilo, R. Park, maj. dec. Tim Roden, S. Plains, 11-3.
Roselle Park leads 4-0.
152: Elvin Guerrero, R. Park, dec. Mike Ramos, S. Plains, 5-0.
Roselle Park leads 7-0.
160: Abel Crespo, R. Park, dec. Zach Fleischman, S. Plains, 3-1.
Roselle Park leads 10-0.
170: Nick Palazzolo, S. Plains, pin Jefferson Garcia, R. Park, 5:22.
Roselle Park leads 10-6.
182: Devin Hilburn, R. Park, dec. Alex Oslislo, S. Plains, 5-3.
Roselle Park leads 13-6.
195: Sam Wustefeld, S. Plains, tech. fall Ryan Urban, R. Park, 20-5 (2:15).
Roselle Park leads 13-11.
220: Bobby Mount, Scotch Plains, won by forfeit.
Scotch Plains leads 17-13.
HWT: Sean Matthews, R. Park, dec. Walter Thomas, S. Plains, 3-1.
Scotch Plains leads 17-16.
106: Gabe Leo, R. Park, pin. Kyle Rigney, S. Plains, 1:01.
Roselle Park leads 22-17.
113: Mike Fleck, S. Plains, pin Antonio Antonucci, R. Park, 2:28.
Scotch Plains leads 23-22.
120: Eddie Hummel, R. Park, pin Kyle Robinson, S. Plains, 3:46.
Roselle Park leads 28-23.
126: Matt Armamento, R. Park, maj. dec. Jeremy Lenart, S. Plains, 17-6.
Roselle Park leads 32-23.
132: Mark Montgomery, R. Park, pin Jacob Perone, S. Plains, 4:28.
Roselle Park leads 38-23.
138: Jon Mejia, R. Park, pin Mateo Velez, S. Plains, 1:30.
Roselle Park wins 44-23.
Scotch Plains (9-4, 0-2), Roselle Park (11-1, 2-0).
ROSELLE PARK WRESTLING HISTORY
GROUP 1 STATE CHAMPIONS (2):
1982 – the first year, beat Paulsboro
1997 – tied Paulsboro, shared crown
GROUP 1 FINALISTS (7):
1985 – lost to Paulsboro
1988 – lost to Paulsboro
1989 – lost to Paulsboro
1991 – lost to Paulsboro
1998 – lost to Paulsboro
2002 – lost to Paulsboro
2003 – lost to Paulsboro
NORTH 2, GROUP 1 CHAMPIONS (18):
1980 – the first year, 1981, 1982, 1984,
1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989 1990,
1991, 1993, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2003,
CENTRAL JERSEY, GROUP 1 CHAMPIONS (4):
2004, 2008, 2009, 2011
UNION COUNTY TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONS
SINCE 1990 (11):
2014, 2013, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1993, 1992
Roselle Park has won 13 total.
NJSIAA TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIPS
(27 by 20 wrestlers):
1953 – Joe Yeats, 157
1952 – Jack Heiss, 106
1951 – Sal D’Amico, 166
1950 – Sal D’Amico, 166; Frank Capece, 134; George Fidelis, 121
(Union County had 7 of the 10 state champions in 1950.)
1948 – Norman Buick, 104
1946 – Fred Klett, 166; Cal Wacker, 134
1945 – Fred Klett, 166; Andy Fortunato, 134; Cal Wacker, 128; Joe Colicelio, 104
(Roselle Park tied its program-best record of 4 state champions in 1945.)
1944 – George Erb, heavyweight; Rick Sassman, 139; Al Buick, 128
1943 – Monroe Kahn, 146; Al Buick, 113; Robert Venturo, 104; Andy Fortunato, 95
(Roselle Park had a program-best 4 state champions in 1943.)
1942 – Robert Venturo, 95
1941 – Dan Valenti, 115; John Peters, 95
1940 – Robert Newman, heavyweight
1939 – Warren Wacker, 175; Herb Farrell 115
1936 – Herb Farrell, 95
(1936 was the 3rd year of state tournament)
TWO-TIME STATE CHAMPIONS:
Herb Farrell: 1936-95 and 1939-115
Robert Venturo: 1942-95 and 1943-104
Al Buick: 1943-113 and 1944-128
Andy Fortunato: 1943-95 and 1945-134
Cal Wacker: 1945-128 and 1946-134
Fred Klett: 1945-166 and 1946-166
Sal D’Amico: 1950-166 and 1951-166
ROSELLE PARK HEAD COACHES:
T. Ralph “Pug” Williams
1936-1957 and 1963 – 153 wins
1958-1962 – 26 wins
1964-1969 – 62 wins
1970-1971 – 16 wins
1972-1982 – 186 wins
1983-2002 – 286 wins
2003-2016 – 242 wins
2016-present – 29 wins