Wednesday, March 2, 2016

And Then There Were Three...

It ain't the six minutes, 
it's what happens in that six minutes.
- "Vision Quest" 

I was an utterly atrocious high school wrestler.  So bad in fact, that three decades later, I can still identify high schools all over New Jersey by looking at photographs of the ceiling in their gymnasium.  For it was the gymnasium ceiling that more often than not was the last thing I saw before the referee completed his three count.  

Earlier this century, Margaret and I had a pretty good eight-year run as fans of her brother Frank's two sons as each of them battled his way to the State Championships in Atlantic City as a member of the Middlesex High School Blue Jays Wrestling Team.  Joe capped off his outstanding senior year, which included a District 12 and a Region 3 title, with a 6th place finish in the 189-pound weight class.  When Joe graduated, his younger brother Frank continued the family tradition.  While Frank never placed at the State Championships, he represented Middlesex High School in Atlantic City in his junior year and, again, in his senior year.  The Brothers Bozzomo - between them - had an eight-year scholastic wrestling career and three of the eight years culminated in a trip to the State Championships.  Acknowledging my bias, I am nevertheless constrained to point out that is not too bad.  Not too bad at all. 

The 2016 State Championship Tournament begins on Friday night in Atlantic City.  This year, three wrestlers shall carry the banner for Middlesex High School.  

Jeff Johnson, who is a sophomore and who wrestles at 138 pounds, earned his trip to Atlantic City on the strength of his second-place finish in Region 3 last weekend.  On Friday night, he will wrestle in the Preliminary round (a/k/a "Win or Go Home" round), in which the action starts at 5:00 pm.  Should he defeat his Preliminary round opponent, a young man named Jayson Parisi from Morris Knolls High School, he will earn a meeting with his weight class's #2 seed. 

Joining Jeff Johnson in Atlantic City this weekend is Jack Sweeney.   He is a Senior, the Team Captain, and a future member of the United States Marine Corps, having already signed his enlistment papers and being scheduled to report after graduation this June.  Sweeney wrestles at 220 pounds.  He clawed his way to Atlantic City by gutting out a 4-2 victory in the 3rd place match last Saturday afternoon in Region 3.  On Friday night he shall also wrestle in the Preliminary round.  If he wins, his reward is a date with #2 seed Michael Carfagno from St. Joseph's High School in Montvale.  Whether he shall be successful on Friday night I would not pretend to know but given the fact that he is just eighteen years old and has committed himself, already, to the service of this country as a Marine, I know for certain that he will not want for effort.  

The third member of the Middlesex flock wrestling in Atlantic City this weekend is the Jays's 195-pound Region 3 champion, Kevin Ambicki.  As a Region champion, he does not have to participate in the Preliminary round but, instead, has a bye into the Pre-Quarterfinal round.  His reward, using that term in a manner so broad that I risk being sued by the Einstein Estate, is a match-up with his weight class's #1 seed, Kevin Mulligan of Bergen Catholic who won the State Championship last year in the 182-pound weight class.   

It has been a number of years since I have watched a wrestling match at the high school.  I do not know any of these three young men or their families.  Having had, however, the chance to bear witness to Joe and to Frank having competed at this level and having seen the sacrifice each endured for the opportunity to match up with the best that this State had to offer, I have an immeasurable amount of respect and admiration for each of these three youngsters and for the 333 other kids who shall join them in Atlantic City this weekend in a quest for a State Championship.

I know not what this weekend holds in store for each but irrespective of the journey's duration, I hope like hell that each has a chance to take a moment and appreciate the trip.  Each has certainly earned it. 

For it is what happens in those six minutes that is important...

...not that any of these three needed me to tell him. 


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