Written by Hyram Landers Friday, 17 May 2013 00:00
Simply because something has happened or reoccurred several times in the past does not make it a tradition, something to be expected maybe, or something habitual perhaps. Tradition is different. It evokes a feeling of long-standing preplanned positive experiences built in layers upon one another.
So it is, apparently, with the Highlander Wrestling program. Year after year, young men and women graduate from the high school program only to return again as alumni freely lending their expertise, assistance and support . . . giving back to those who have not yet entered the fraternity of Highlander Wrestling Graduates.
This was never truer than it was during one of the numerous presentations made at the 37th Annual Herricks Wrestling Team Awards Dinner when several members of the Highlander Wrestling Fraternity were recognized for some very special contributions that they have made over the years.
Louis (1992) and Rino DiMaria (1988), Dr. Raymond Omid (1993), Craig Yellin (1994), Romano Savocchi (1991), and Neil Breitkopf (1978) have been inducted as the charter members of Highlander Wrestling Distinguished Alumni award recipients.
“So many of our alumni have made such special contributions to our program over the years without any fanfare, it is a privilege for us to begin to acknowledge them in this more visible fashion,” Head Coach Cliff Forziat said.
Each of these men received a special personal award, and an engraved perpetual plaque is being added to the Community Center’s Wrestling Hallway of Fame in their honor. In case you have not been down that way, there you will discover pictures of championship teams and individual Herricks wrestlers who were Conference (Division in the old days) Champions or higher. Championship trophies and plaques abound, and there are perpetual plaques listing Most Valuable, Most Improved, Coaches Recognition, and Highland Wrestler award recipients. Other plaques identify Herricks Wrestling Career Wins and Pins leaders.
Nestled in among these, local newspaper articles, and action photos (and a bowling pin, there’s got to be a story behind that) you will find scholarship plaques commemorating those student wrestlers who received grants from Omid through his advanced holistic medicine practice, Yellin through his Craig Yellin Enterprises (medical billing and merchant services), and the DiMaria brothers, Rino and Louis, through their Joanne’s Gourmet Pizza & Pasta restaurant. Savocchi wanted no publicity, but he made substantial contribution to the Highlander Wrestling Scholarship Fund.
“Romano deserves this recognition,” Forziat noted. “We want him to know how much we respect his high regard for our program.” Herricks wrestlers have been fortunate recipients of between $3,500.00 and $4,500 of financial aid each year. As Omid says, “We are a cut above.”
Breitkopf has tirelessly worked to build database of all of the old lads and lasses. Forziat’s records helped a bit going back to 1976, but those first 18 years of the program require persistent detective work. Breitkopf’s efforts have directly led to six formal (more or less) wrestling alumni reunions.
It is truly special to observe the droves of Herricks Wrestling Alumni who come back to “The Room” (the wrestling room) and to the various home and away contests to cheer for and to support the current teams made up of wrestlers who were not even born yet when these alumni competed (often in the same uniforms, tradition runs deep, indeed).
The walls in “The Room” above the protective padding (nobody wants the walls to be damaged) have been adorned with the names of the individual Conference/Division Champions, All-County, and All-State Highlander wrestlers.
Every year more than once, Forziat will gesture toward these names and remind his team that there are thousands of worthy young men and women, Herricks wrestlers, whose names are not on the walls, yet who were terrific competitors and people, who are successful in all walks of life, and whose spirit and strength (often unseen) can be tapped.
“It’s nice to be a champion on the mat,” Forziat acknowledged. “We’ve had quite a few, but for each wrestler whose name is on the wall there were teammate sparring partners whose efforts got him there. It is more important to be a champion off the mat in everything else that you do. We are blessed to have an outstanding base of graduated wrestlers, team managers, and even their parents and families who continue to support our program.”