The news blindsided the Brentwood wrestlers. Moments before the Indians were to compete in the prestigious Rocky Gilmore Memorial Tournament in East Islip, coach Ralph Napolitano told the team that beloved senior Danny Calderone has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease.
"It was like punching every one of them in the stomach," Napolitano said. "The boys took the news very hard. The Calderone family is such a huge part of our program. It was very difficult to tell the team what was going on within our family."
The Brentwood boys rallied around the Calderone family Saturday in an impressive show of strength at the Gilmore Tournament. Brentwood earned the team crown with 331 points to easily outdistance host East Islip's 288.5 points. The Indians captured four individual titles, led by three-time All-County wrestler Alex Gomez at 119 pounds and Dave Chaverra at 112 pounds.
Napolitano said the Calderone family is an integral part of his program. Twins Mario and Travis Calderone graduated last year and were a key to the Indians' drive to the Suffolk League I tournament title. Mario was a two-time league champion and Travis was a two-time place-winner in league action.
"Mama Calderone cares for all of our boys," Napolitano said. "She cooks for them, provides shelter and basically gives them a place to sleep, eat or shower. She's everyone's mama. And now one of her boys is sick and we want her to know that we're with them every step of the way."
Cindy "Mama" Calderone has given much to the Brentwood wrestling program. She's also seen her boys grow up for the last six years within the successful structure of the Indians' program. Her contributions have not gone unnoticed or underappreciated by the coaches or the team members.
"We voted unanimously to bring them the tournament trophy and show them they are not in this alone," Gomez said. "We are in this together."
Danny Calderone, who does not wrestle, usally travels with the team and has become a mat-side fixture in support of the team. He did not make Saturday's finals.
"He's a great kid and we'll be there for him," Napolitano said. "He's a great role model and an inspiration for our wrestlers. He's already been accepted to Harvard and MIT. It's a long road but we'll be with him every step of the way."
The bus ride home for Brentwood was especially gratifying; the team made an unscheduled stop on Morton Street to celebrate with the Calderones.
East Islip crowned four champions, including Tyler Conway at 152 pounds, Anthony Argenti (160), Erik Vik (171) and Andrew Slawson (285). "We did a great job in the upper weight classes," East Islip coach Guy Leggio said. "We battle with Brentwood every year in this tournament."