Driving home from Rochester Monday after the state championships I was feeling low because I realized that the 2007-08 high school wrestling season was over. However, when I thought about it I realized that the season still had one more night – the All-Section dinner Thursday.
I always look forward to the all-section dinner because it allows me to converse with the wrestlers, coaches and parents one final time as Section 1 honors the wrestlers.
It was a change of venue tonight. After Colonial Terrace annually hosting the dinner, the Holiday Inn in Fishkill had the honor because of last month’s fire which claimed Colonial Terrace.
The All-Section had a new format with the Section 1 Hall of Fame inductees and award winners announced. In previous years, this portion was announced prior to the championship finals.
The Section 1 Wrestling Coaches Association inducted former Mount Vernon outstanding coach Jim Lee and five of his former sectional champs/teammates – Bucky Smith, Tony Crawford, Horace Perry, Rich Numa and Billy Beard. What made this special was that the men presented Lee with a plaque for what he meant to them and the program. The six men huddled together on the dais and savored the moment. I don’t think there was a dry eye within that group.
Following this poignant moment, Yonkers’ Elliot Maldonado, Pearl River’s John Coffey, Clarkstown North’s Steven Ramos, Mamaroneck’s Femi Wheeler and Lakeland/Panas’ Joe Hauser received these awards – Evelyn Negron, Julius D’Agostino, Matt Moore and Bill Snyder, respectively.
Former Valley Central coach and current Nyack AD Bob Zifchock, who also assists Section 1 Wrestling Chair Eric Romanino, gave an excellent speech concerning Section 1’s coming together this season and being a ‘Choir’ instead of a ‘Soloist.’ He cited this in the state practices and at the state championships.
Zifchock also told those in attendence about one of his former wrestlers, Jimmy, who was legally blind. Despite this, Zifchock said Jimmy taught him how to talk to his wrestlers. Zifchock pointed out that a few years ago he saw Jimmy, a Social Studies teacher on Long Island, called out his name and Jimmy, responded with ‘Coach!’
New Rochelle’s Jim Guccione was named the Conference I coach of the year, Fox Lane’s Joe Amuso, Section 1’s dean of wrestling coaches, was selected as the Conference II coach of the year, and Nanuet’s Brenden Rogers was chosen the Conference III coach of the year.
John Jay’s Bill Swertfager, who brought the program back from extinction seven years ago, was named the 2007-08 Section 1 Coach of the year. A couple of things stand out from Bill’s speech. The first was telling the wrestlers to stay on the mat during the offseason, at least three days a week, and wrestle in a minimum of 5-6 spring tournaments. He also noted Section 1’s improvement in the 2008 state championships as well as the in-season improvements within Section 1 this season.
Bill credited his family, sons, John and Mark, and daughter, Theresa, for their support and love, and saved the best for last, wife, Diane, the Hen Hud volleyball coach. Bill made everyone laugh when he said that he is the second best coach in his family based on Diane’s eight consecutive sectional volleyball titles and back-to-back state titles.
Bill summed up his speech by saying that one day, Section 1 will be state champions, which drew a cheer from everyone.
Mahopac coach Sal Imbimbo, who was fired up and enthusiastic as the Master of Ceremony, gave Rick Contrata, the official Section 1 wrestling website administrator and creator, an award from the Section 1 Coaches Association for his positive contributions. It was well deserved. Great job ‘The Veer.’
To sum it up, it was the best All-Section dinner I have attended. A great job by everyone involved.