Dec. 1-7, 2005
Knights Return to the Mat
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Bishop Ludden Re-established Scholastic Wrestling Program Just a few years ago, scholastic wrestling seemed to be on the wane, especially in Central New York. Once the mighty Onondaga League had boasted the strongest, most competitive wrestling programs in New York State, but the scepter had passed to the south and onto Long Island. Locally, enthusiasm for the sport was relegated to the fringes of Central New York, such as Oswego County and the North Country. But in the last two years, the sport has enjoyed a kind of renaissance. Like football, the numbers and the skill level have improved and its rejuvenated popularity is evident particularly at the Pee Wee level.
Fabius-Pompey, Skaneateles and Notre Dame have all re-established programs and last year Bishop Ludden made its first foray into the sport at the junior high level. This year, interest has swelled to a point where the junior high program boasts 22 wrestlers and the Gaelic Knights will be able to put a junior-varsity team on the mat for the first time since the early 1980s. Ludden athletic director Peter Cass, noting the fact that his school is primarily known for its basketball, was initially surprised at the level of enthusiasm shown for wrestling.
“I didn’t think nowadays there would be too much interest in wrestling especially since here at Bishop Ludden we’re a basketball school so I was very surprised that there’s such interest in it,” the administrator said. The program is the brainchild of Ludden football coach John Cosgrove, who wrestled and played football at Bishop Grimes and then at Cortland State. “Coach Cosgrove got the whole thing started and I just followed his lead,” Cass said. Cosgrove, who piloted the Gaelic Knights to a Section 3 Class C Football championship in 2000, sees the skills required for wrestling as natural components for fine football players.
“It’s a program I’ve wanted to start ever since I got here,” Cosgrove said. “I was a high school wrestler and I always liked the way that it kind of complements football. Most football players aren’t going to be great basketball players so it gives them something to do in the winter. It works on bodyweight, positioning, tackling skills — all of that and blends right in with it…especially the linemen — the pushing and shoving on the offensive line and just defense and how to take a guy down in the open field.”
But Cosgrove also sees the sport as having a value in its own right. With its stress on discipline, the sport would seem to dovetail well with a Catholic education. Moreover, the unique nature of wrestling, a one-on-one confrontation on the mat, can engender humility in its participants. “The stress on discipline, sportsmanship. Wrestling’s also a very humbling experience,” the coach said. “You go out there on the mat and at the end of the match, the ref raises one hand and then the other. To know that you were the only one out there and you can’t blame it on a teammate missing a kick or not throwing the pass or whatever, I think it’s a humbling experience and I think you can build sportsmanship and character through it.” Initially, resources such as funding and space made starting the program challenging. Four varsity programs, including 14 teams for boys and girls basketball, volleyball and cheerleading, share one gymnasium at the small Catholic school in Westvale. The building of an arts center opened up space in one of the larger classrooms. Once the practice space for the school’s chorus, the room is now a practice space for wrestling.
“The interest was there, the time was right and we got the support to do it. Not to mention getting that Center for Artful Expression, it freed up the large-group instruction rooms like this. This used to be the chorus room and now the chorus is over in the art wing so it worked out great,” Cosgrove said. Not content to simply feed another West Side program such as Solvay or West Genesee, Cosgrove has ambitious plans for wrestling at Bishop Ludden. A successful season at the junior high and junior varsity levels could mean an independent varsity schedule in the 2006-07 season and perhaps re-entry in a proper league the following year.
Cass is also optimistic about the future of the sport at Bishop Ludden. “I think it will stay and hopefully we’ll get good in the future,” Cass said. “We used to have a pretty good program years ago from what I hear.” For now, the program’s personnel consists solely of Ludden students but Cosgrove said he is open to accepting athletes from other schools.