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SportsColumnistsGregg Sarra

Kid Wrestling program helps elevate Glenn to top

Elwood John Glenn High School wrestling coach T.J.

Elwood John Glenn High School wrestling coach T.J. Brocking watches as Mike Castellano and Nick Meinsen wrestle during practice. (January 14, 2008) Credit: FREELANCE/Photo by Howard Schnapp

The explosion of wrestling talent in schools with small enrollment can be attributed to the foundation of those programs. And that would suggest that those schools have developed popular Kid Wrestling programs.

"There is no doubt that you can trace the success of almost every program at any level to its Kid Wrestling," John Glenn coach T.J. Brocking said. "We have a large Kid program that has grown exponentially over the past four years. And we eventually see the results at the high school level. It's all about the foundation."

The Glenn Kid Wrestling program goes by the name of Blue Wave. It began in 1999 with 35 participants from kindergarten through the sixth grade. Tom Giaramita, who founded the Blue Wave club, moved into the Elwood district at that time and wanted to infuse some energy into a lifeless program. With a 3-year-old son and a vision, Giaramita gained the trust of the Elwood administration and began to lay the foundation for what is considered by many Long Island's top program.

"The Elwood district was one of the very few that had not created a Kid program [at that time]," said Giaramita, who was an All-County wrestler at Huntington in 1980. "I only started wrestling in the ninth grade and there were already so many guys that had so much more experience than me. I wish I'd wrestled since elementary school. There's a big advantage to learning the fundamentals at an early age. They learn mat savvy and basic techniques."

Today, the Blue Wave can boast about a Kid Wrestling program that has ballooned to 120 participants and mimics the high school season. The founders of the program can feel partly responsible for the great success at the high school level.

Current Glenn wrestlers who have benefited from the Kid Wrestling program include key seniors Nick Meinsen (130 pounds), Nick Terdick (152) and Mike Bosco (160). Juniors Matt Fusaro (145) and Joseph Giaramita (189) have also come up through the program.

Glenn is the top-ranked team in the Large Schools poll in the state. The Knights are undefeated in dual meets and tournament competition and have run their record to 17-0. They recently captured the state dual meet championship at Union-Endicott with a convincing 37-10 win over Spencerport, the three-time defending state champions.

"We've been able to raise the bar the past couple of years," Brocking said. "We have a ton of talent coming through the program. And that is directly attributed to the coaches in the Kid and middle school programs."

Glenn won the Suffolk championship in 2009 - and that's despite the four-time League VI champions having the smallest student enrollment of the 44 county schools in Division I. And some coaches thought Brocking was foolish when he took his 2007 Division II championship program and moved it up to Division I.

"I thought it was the logical step and would get us prepared for the tougher competition," he said. "We finished fourth in Division I in 2008 and we were still getting better as a team."

The secret to success might also lay in the teaching assignment for Brocking. It doesn't hurt to have him teaching physical education classes at Harley Avenue Elementary School. His presence makes it easier to recruit potential young wrestlers and deepens the foundation.

"I tell them it's fun," he said. "They love it. They learn balance, coordination and it's great exercise."

Former Bay Shore coach Jumper Leggio and his assistant Bill Knapp Sr. started the the first Kid Wrestling program in the eastern United States in 1961 at the Fifth Avenue Elementary School in Bay Shore.

"My dad watched a Kid tournament in Oregon in the mid-'50s while he was in the Navy and he was sold on the concept," said East Islip coach Guy Leggio, Jumper's son. "He brought the idea back to New York and [it] became the first Kid program. Now, there are over 80 on Long Island."

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