BLOOMFIELD, NJ-- Bloomfield High swept the annual Gray Cup Wrestling Tournament on Feb. 1, at the Pit, in Bloomfield.
Head coach Ryan Smircich's team defeated Verona, 51-27, Cedar Grove, 48-30, and Columbia, 72-6, to win the championship of a tournament named in memory of one-time Bengals wrestler, Danny Gray.
Smircich, however, was not at the event, since he was coaching the BHS girls team at the Kingsway Tournament, in Woolwich Township, South Jersey.
Gray was a 1994 graduate of Bloomfield High. He competed in three varsity sports, including wrestling, where his head coach was Sam Fusaro.
"Danny was as tough a young man on the mat that I've ever coached," recalled Fusaro, who is now retired as the team's head coach but is still a teacher at BHS and participates in many wrestling-related activities for the Bengals. "Wonderful guy, he is really missed."
Among Gray's high school wrestling teammates was Pete Foster, who is now the head coach and educator at Verona High School.
"Danny and I were pretty close, growing up," said Foster after last weekend's tournament. "He was a really good athlete. He also played football and tennis, and was a member of the high school band and chorus. We were drill partners on the wrestling team."
Foster, whose team finished second in the Gray Cup this year, gave a stirring speech about Gray to the wrestlers at all four participating schools following the Gray Cup, which is now in its sixth season .
Dr. Danny Gray, a veterinarian, died on Feb. 15, 2014, at the age of 37, after battling an illness.
For a number of years, the Gray Cup featured Bloomfield, Verona, Princeton High and Montclair. Fusaro, of course, was the Bloomfield coach while the head coaches of Verona (Foster), Princeton (Rashone Johnson) and Montclair (Mike Freedman) were all one-time Bengal wrestlers, for Fusaro.
"Like anything else, in coaching, people move on," said Foster. "Sam retired, Mike Freedman moved from Montclair to Columbia and Rashone became an administrator at Princeton High, so he had to give up his coaching responsibilities.
"Rami Ratel was named the head coach at Cedar Grove, so we were able to keep the tradition of former Bloomfield coaches taking their teams to the Gray Cup. It's worked out nicely."
Ratel, of course, was a marvelous wrestler at Bloomfield and was later a long-time assistant coach for the Bengals, before moving to Cedar Grove last season.
A number of current assistant coaches also wrestled for the Bengals, including Liam Penberthy (Verona), Jason Galioto and Al Chiaravallo (Bloomfield) and Chris Lantz (Columbia). Galioto and Chairavallo handled the coaching chores for the Bengals, with Smircich away with the girls team.
Foster also noted that Mark Russo, one of the officials at the match, was a former Bengal wrestler and Bob Mayer, the legendary softball coach at BHS, who handled the clock operations last weekend, was also a Bengals grappler over 50 years ago.
"It says a lot about the program and the way so many former wrestlers are still a part of it," said Foster. "I guess I'm one of the older guys, now, when it comes to coaching. But that's okay."