Hofstra a perfect welcoming mat for Nassau and Suffolk wrestling championships

Ward Melville's Nick Piccininni, right, wrestles Harborfield's Tim

Ward Melville's Nick Piccininni, right, wrestles Harborfield's Tim Johnson at 120 pounds in the Suffolk Division I wrestling semifinal at Hofstra University on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

Gregg Sarra

Newsday Columnist Gregg Sarra Gregg Sarra

Gregg Sarra is Newsday's high school sports columnist and writer.

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The pessimists said they couldn't pull it off. They cited all kinds of potential issues with this weekend's Nassau and Suffolk high school sectional wrestling championships being held in one venue. Some thought it would be impossible.

The concerns ranged from the parking availability, to the arena seating, to weather-related travel problems, to you name it. Some people just don't like change. And with Stony Brook University still under construction and not available to host, Hofstra University was the best option to accommodate the large crowds that flow for Suffolk's tournament.

The sectional chairmen, Ed Ramirez of Nassau and Bob Panariello of Suffolk, ignored the negativity and pushed forward anyway with both sectional tournaments at Hofstra on the same weekend, including unprecedented side-by-side semifinals Sunday morning and finals Sunday night.

The results couldn't have been better.

Score it a first-period pin for Ramirez and Panariello.

The three-day event went off without a hitch, despite another three inches of snow from Mother Nature during Saturday night's quarterfinal round that made returning home a little more adventurous.

"They were an unbelievable host," Panariello said of Hofstra. "You couldn't ask for a university to be more hospitable. They were amazing in every way. Our fans, wrestlers and coaches were treated like professionals and the atmosphere was incredible."

Long Island's championship high school wrestling took center stage at David S. Mack Arena. Three days of the best grappling Nassau and Suffolk could offer. And to make the finals even more memorable, they wrestled the county finals side by side for the first time in the history of the sectional tournaments.

It was a treat for high school wrestling fans. More than a total of 12,500 fans packed Mack Arena throughout the three-day, four-session weekend, culminating with the biggest crowd for Sunday night's finals. The big-time feel, with MSG Varsity simulcasting both finals, and fans roaring from the rafters, watched them crown 15 Division I champions in each county.

On display were three defending state champions, junior Nick Piccininni of Ward Melville, senior Shakur Rasheed of Longwood and senior Luis Hernandez of Mepham. On one side of the arena floor was the Doc Fallot Memorial Suffolk County Wrestling Championships on the brand new college-sized mat in memory of longtime official scorer Betsy Turk.

On the other side was the Hofstra University mat featuring the Nassau County finals. It was all in one arena for all to see at the same time. It was a wrestling fan's delight.

They crowned 30 individual champions Sunday night. The venue that's hosted a presidential debate, countless trade shows, concerts and sporting events notched another victory in community relations. The other winners were Long Island's wrestling fans.

"It was great for high school wrestling," Ramirez said. "Just an exciting event."