Fans fill the stands at Pond Road Middle School youth wrestling tournaments
The gym is jammed to the rafters. Letters of congratulations have come in from politicians. T-shirts have been made.
It’s a happening.
“It’s middle school wrestling!” exclaimed Pond Road wrestling coach Sean Greig, who has established a wildly successful program with the help of the Robbinsville recreation department.
The numbers are impressive for Pond Road. It has gone undefeated three of the last four seasons. During that time, it has gone 55-1 and currently has a 30-match winning streak.
“We have a wonderful situation where for years, a group of good coaches are taking care of the kids on the rec level,” said David Fox, a wrestling parent who served as Pond Road scorekeeper the past three years. “They started the middle school team under the RWA (Robbinsville Wrestling Association) banner, then became sanctioned with the school. That really helps feed the program.”
It is actually a nice progression, from rec to middle school to high school, as all three programs work with each other to make sure everyone is on the same page. But the middle school is doing things that are receiving attention not usually given to 6th, 7th and 8th-graders.
“We pack the gym,” Greig said. “You come to our wrestling meet, it’s unbelievable. If we’re wrestling a certain team, they’ll have 300 to 400 people coming. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.
“We’ve got refs coming up, asking us about our streak. We have a letter from an assemblyman congratulating us and telling us to keep up the good work. We have teachers wearing sweatshirts that say 23-0, things like that. It’s taken on a life of its own.”
Greig, however, wants to keep it in perspective.
“We don’t ever think about the streak,” he said. “We only talk about the [Pond Road] tournament and taking it one meet at a time.”
The Pond Road Tournament features some high caliber schools, and the hosts won it in 2012 and took second this past winter.
Greig has coached the program for seven years. He wrestled at Delran High School and served as an assistant coach at Hamilton High West during the Hornets’ glory days. While in the army, he served as a high school head coach in Japan.
After six years of teaching at Robbinsville High, he is in his first year as a special education teacher at Pond Road. When he took over, there were 13 wrestlers in the program. The numbers jumped from 27, to 38, and have consistently been 45 or better the past four years.
“It’s been basically about getting the kids to wrestle and buy into something,” Greig said. “We’ve made a commitment with the kids in the community and every year we’d try to expand and get a little better.
“Paul Bilgrav has done a great job with the rec program and bringing wrestling to Robbinsville. They’re the trailblazers of Robbinsville wrestling, and I’m just continuing what they started and trying to get the kids ready for the high school.”
Bilgrav is co-director of the RWA, along with Mark Bossie, and has been coaching in it for 10 years. The RWA not only supports Pond Road and RHS, but runs the Mercer County Middle School Tournament and the RWA dual meet tournament that involves numerous Pond Road wrestlers.
“When I first got involved with the program we didn’t have a high school or middle school team,” Bilgrav said. “The sole focus was on introducing youth to the sport of wrestling. When we knew a high school was in the cards, RWA as a key driver in getting the middle school to take on wrestling as a school sport, which has grown in popularity over the last few years.
“It all came down to laying down the foundation and staying the course. Mark Bossie and Jeff Condit were the driving force before me; I just kept the ship moving forward. Tony Torrington, Matt O’Grady, Justin Kinne, Paul Brown and Enzo Nini are all the up-and-coming group of coaches that have helped expand our program.”
Bilgrav notes that the wrestling community in Robbinsville has become a tight-knit family that oversees kids ages 4 through high school.
“We understand that it takes a village to raise a child and having a great group of involved parents is always key,” he said. “I commonly refer to them as the RWA Army.”
In prepping the rec wrestlers for middle school, RWA allows them to go at their own pace and see how they like it. If they stick with it, they are exposed to greater challenges and some kids may wrestle in 40 to 50 matches per season against some of the best wrestlers their age in the state and nation.
“It’s all about mat time, the more the better,” Bilgrav said.
Greig agrees with that philosophy, which he feels all three programs share.
“One thing I learned at a young age, it’s not about winning, it’s what you put into it, and that will decide your wins and losses,” he said. “First and foremost it’s about the relationship with kids. With that comes all the rest, and we tell them as long as you’re working hard and doing the right thing the winning takes care of itself.”
As the middle school coach, Greig is also the middle man when it comes to rec and high school.
“I have a good relationship with both,” he said. “The high school coaches come down and talk with us and watch us.
“There’s great communication between the three of us and a lot of respect between the three of us. Wrestling is a sport where it’s important that you develop relationships with the kids early and get them to buy into it.”
Greig, who is assisted by Anthony Paglione, can look back on a ton of highlights over the past three years. Dylan James went undefeated. Kyle Twamley was 38-3. The names roll on—Logan Fox, Sean Tonry, Kevin Jacoutot, Dave and Chris Stewart, Tyler Gildner. Tonry went out and wrestled while his mom was battling cancer (she is now doing well) and served as an inspiration to the team.
Greig calls Brent Grocott an “up-and-comer” after he took fourth in the nationals and was invited to the East Coast Tournament.
“Those are the kinds of kids we’ve been getting,” the coach said. “At the end of the day it’s the kids that make you look good.”
But of all the great championships that have been won by his wrestlers, Greig said this year’s season highlight came when Cameron Witt, son of town council president Ron Witt, wrestled and won his first match.
“He has special needs, and when he went out and won that match, the entire team and the community went crazy,” Greig said. “It was one of the most special things I’ve ever seen. This was his first major social setting, and he went out and did that, it was just incredible.
“His father called me at 10 at night thanking me and telling me he loved seeing what has happened in wrestling. Our parents are phenomenal; we’re all big on communication. It’s an open door policy. If you’re in this, you know what you’re getting into. ”