The first-ever Celebrate Wrestling event was held May 30 at a conference center in Princeton, N.J.
The Princeton (N.J.) chapter of Wrestlers In Business Network (WIBN) has created a winning new way to celebrate the oldest and greatest sport ... and those who participate in it.
The first-ever Celebrate Wrestling event -- held May 30 at a conference center in Princeton, N.J. -- was designed to celebrate the sport by honoring excellence from wrestlers and coaches within the area.
Chris AyresThe evening began on a solemn note by honoring the late Chris Hixon, head wrestling coach and athletic director at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who was one of 17 killed in the mass shooting at the Parkland, Fla. school on Feb. 12. The heroic actions of the 49-year-old Hixon -- a Florida native who had served as a U.S. Naval reservist in Iraq in 2007 -- saved the lives of countless students and teachers at Stoneman Douglas. An American flag fashioned of metal and inscribed with a message honoring coach Hixon's heroism will be presented to the Florida school.
Next, Celebrate Wrestling featured inspirational speeches from the head wrestling coaches of three NCAA Division I schools located in the area. Rider University's John Hangey talked about taking over a program after the retirement of the previous head coach ... Scott Goodale of Rutgers addressed the challenge of building a team with the help of assistant coaches ... and Chris Ayres shared the story of rebuilding the wrestling program at Princeton University.
In addition, special guest Leigh Jaynes-Provisor, Team USA women's freestyle wrestler who won a bronze medal at the 2015 World championships, captivated the audience with her personal story of overcoming a harrowing childhood thanks in large part to her participation in wrestling, first as the only girl on her high school wrestling team ... then as a member of the USA Wrestling women's freestyle squad.
Matt Kolodzik, Nick Suriano and Scott Delvecchio
The evening concluded by honoring area wrestlers who had achieved greatness during the 2017-18 wrestling season. Fourteen local high school wrestlers who were crowned champions at a local county tournament were presented with medals. In addition, three wrestlers who earned All-American honors for New Jersey-based schools at the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships were also acknowledged: Rutgers' Nick Suriano, runner-up at 125 pounds, and Scott Delvecchio, who placed sixth at 133 pounds for Rutgers ... and Matt Kolodzik, Princeton's 149 pounder who came in third in his bracket.
Why a Celebrate Wrestling event?
Joe Savino of Wrestlers In Business Network's Princeton chapter had a number of reasons in mind for organizing the first-ever Celebrate Wrestling event.
"I grew up as a wrestler on Long Island, where we had an honors award dinner each year," Savino told InterMat. "It had a positive, lifelong impact on me. In addition to having wrestlers be honored for their achievements on the mat, it was a great opportunity to meet coaches and business leaders and other significant individuals within the sport and the local community."
"For young wrestlers in particular, it was a positive experience to see what others are able to accomplish, and provide that 'push' to do great things in the coming season and perhaps be honored at next year's event."
"I believe it was about time that wrestlers in this part of New Jersey be acknowledged for their achievements and celebrated by their peers," Savino continued. "That's one of the goals of the Celebrate Wrestling event."
"The mission of Wrestlers In Business Network is 'to support wrestlers in all ways.' We at the Princeton chapter believe that Celebrate Wrestling is one way we can remain true to that mission, and help grow the sport."
"Wrestlers In Business Network wants to make clear that we support wrestling in all forms -- youth, high school, college, and beyond," Savino continued. "We want to make the sport more inclusive. We're supporting efforts to have girls wrestling sanctioned in New Jersey. And, we wanted to make this event inclusive, by making a point of inviting girls who wrestle to participate, as well as by featuring Leigh-Jaynes-Provisor as an inspirational guest speaker. The girls in attendance really enjoyed being a part of the event."
"New Jersey as a whole has a great reputation for strong amateur wrestling programs," said Savino. However, our county is not traditionally thought of as a 'hotbed' for wrestling. We're working to change that narrative in our county. We're striving to build on our successes so that younger wrestlers can see what's being accomplished, and add to that success in the future. For example, for high school freshmen to see older wrestlers in high school and college be acknowledged for their on-the-mat achievements, they can be inspired to achieve greatness of their own."
Mark Savino and Joe Savino
The Princeton chapter of WIBN plan to host a Celebrate Wrestling event next spring. And they see it as the type of event that others might want to use as a model for their own end-of-season celebrations to not only acknowledge and honor success within their own region, but also help generate excitement within their respective communities -- especially among prospective wrestlers, male and female -- to help grow participation and interest in the oldest and greatest sport.
Joe Savino has one bit of advice for others considering putting on a similar event. "It does take a total team effort to host these events successfully. With that in mind, I would thank our WIBN local board for doing such a great job to make a truly memorable, meaningful event."