By Tony Pinciaro
Ten-year-old Chris Ball had just moved into his new house in Peekskill when he would meet a man who would have a major impact on Ball and many other future wrestlers and people – Matt Moore.
“My father, who had wrestled for the first Peekskill team under Larry Cook in 1963, took me next door to meet Coach Moore for the first time,” recalled Ball of meeting his future Peekskill wrestling coach. “His words to me were, ‘So, I hear you want to be a wrestler!’”
Ball and his brother would go on to wrestle for Moore and receive life-long inspiration and guidance from the Section 1 Wrestling Hall-of-Famer who passed away, recently, at the age of 74.
Even though Moore was confined to a wheelchair as a paraplegic, in 1991, he was still an active member in the Section 1 coaching world. The Section 1 Wrestling Coaches Association created the Matt Moore Scholarship Award.
Ball recalled how Moore held him and his brother to higher standards because they were neighbors. He may not have understood it then, but it helped shape Ball.
“Peekskill had a history of good lightweights, so I was expected to be tough and I learned quickly,” said Ball, a Social Studies teacher in the Yonkers’ School District. “It was explained to me that I had a role on the team and if I didn’t hold up my end, the team suffered, not just me. It was the first time I realized I was accountable, part of a wrestling family and belonged to bigger things than just myself. Nobody wanted to let coach down.”
Former Lakeland/Panas Section 1 champ and current Putnam Valley P.E. teacher Dan Turner also knew Moore from a young age as their families are friends. Once Turner began his varsity wrestling career. he came across Moore, who was a volunteer Lakeland/Panas wrestling coach. Even with his disability, Moore still had an impact on Turner and his teammates.
“Coach Moore cared. It was that simple,” Turner said. “He cared about the process, not so much the product/outcome. He cared about the individual, the person. As long as you were a good person, you were a champion to Coach Moore. All of his athletes, friends and family knew that.
“He had a saying: ‘Hard Work Pays Off.’ And as long as you worked your hardest, you were a champion to Coach Moore. He set the best example to anyone that ever crossed his path. I can say with absolute certainty that anyone who ever crossed his path was better because of it.”
Moore was a regular at sectionals, annually. When Moore entered the gymnasium coaches, wrestlers and parents made it a point to go out of their way to greet the well-respected coach.
“The Coach in the chair became motivation and the symbol of perseverance and strength for wrestlers and coaches who needed it or to be reminded that they had more to give,” Ball said. “I don’t think it’s a surprise that his profound influence on his own wrestlers is still resonating to wrestling today from coaches who spent time around Coach Moore. He transcended our sport and made real and human connections with everyone he met.”
Turner will attest to this regarding a connection with Moore.
“Coach Moore and I had a very special relationship that I can’t exactly describe,” Turner said. “I could call him, or look at him, and he had this innate ability to read how I was feeling. He did this for all of his athletes, friends, and family. He was gifted in this regard. He was well known for his inspirational quotes and I think the one that has imprinted on my life more than any other was, ‘If it is to be, it is up to me.’ He was an incredible father, coach, teacher and friend because he loved and believed in the importance of those things. Nobody was better.
“I will always live my life with that same love, compassion, and determination. A few wrestling seasons was all it took to learn about the importance of caring, love, and determination, because of Coach Moore. The world will be very different without him, but a heckuva lot better because of him!”
His spirit was with all last Saturday when FOX LANE went into the seventh annual Westchester County Wrestling Championships primed to win its fifth consecutive title. However, upstart Iona Prep spoiled the Foxes continued monopoly, winning the title by a slim 3.5 points – 167.5 points to 164 points. Iona Prep had four finalists, including Sean Degl (of Somers).
Despite the runner-up finish, Fox Lane walked away with the most individual champions, five – Luis Diaz-Giron (102 pounds), Justin Gierum (132), Jake Hoffman (152), Nicky Magiera (189) and Mark Berisha (285).
Alex Berisha (172) placed sixth and sophomore Daas McPhee-Djhan bumped up, from 132 pounds, to wrestle in the 138-pound weight class. He provided the Foxes with a couple of wins. It was McPhee-Djhan’s first varsity tournament.
“Luis impressed me because he beat an opponent he had never beaten and that shows his growth and improvement,” said senior and captain Jake Hoffman. “Daas, who is a backup 132-pounder went up to 138, won a couple of matches and got the team points.
“This shows that we have good depth in our weight classes. We have that mentality that when we step on the mat we can beat anybody on any day.”
Diaz-Giron, seeded second, decisioned top-seeded Nicholas Bolanos of Port Chester, 4-3. Diaz-Giron and Bolanos were in a scramble, but the Fox Lane wrestler secured control for a takedown with 20 seconds in the match.
Hoffman and Mark Berisha each recorded pins and Gierum was determined in a 4-2 decision over Iona Prep’s Kevin Koufalis. These two wrestlers could meet again when Fox Lane and Iona Prep wrestle in a dual meet, Tuesday.
Fox Lane, which won another league title, will now prepare for the New York State Division I (Large School) Dual-Meet Wrestling Championships, Saturday, in Syracuse. This is the Foxes fourth consecutive appearance.
“We have an extremely young team, two-thirds of whom have never gone to the dual-meet state championships, but I’m really excited that they will have this experience,” said Hoffman, a two-time Section 1 Division I champion and fifth-place finisher in the 2020 state championships. “I’m also excited to have the opportunity to get a few matches against the top guys in the state and country.”
LAKELAND/PANAS had its most successful finish in the Westchester County Wrestling Championships as the Rebels finished fourth (108 points).
Coach Dave Bergen said he qualified eight wrestlers with seven placing in the top six, highlighted by finalists Connor McGannon (189 pounds) and Kevin Hickey (285).
“I am extremely proud of my guys, placing seven in the top six in a very competitive tournament,” Bergen said. “The guys wrestled hard and smart all day.”
Stephen Carroll (145) finished third, Gavin Crilly (189) was fourth, Spencer Maja (126) placed fifth and Alex Russo (118) and Chris Ciraco (172) were sixth.
“Kevin and Connor both had really good days making it through to the finals,” Bergen said. “They wrestled well against some tough competition and are looking very good for the postseason. Spencer lost a tough match by a point, but he did fantastic in the wrestlebacks. Each match he wrestled, he looked better than the one before. It’s tough to rally after a close loss, but he did a great job getting through.”
Justin Fortugno of BYRAM HILLS/BRIARCLIFF/VALHALLA/WESTLAKE dominated in winning the 126-pound title with a pin and two wins by technical fall. Teammate and freshman Neil Paulercio took fifth at 118.
“Justin has been dominant all season with only one loss and that continued,” Coach Joey Grippi said. “He has really stepped up his wrestling this year and has been a great leader to our younger wrestlers. Neil is only a freshman, but is having a great year. He has so much potential and is extremely tough. He wrestled very well, pinning every opponent besides his loss to the No. 1 seed and eventual champion. Neil has a bright future ahead of him.”
HORACE GREELEY had five place finishers and was eighth with 81 points. Vincent Sasso was Greeley’s top place finisher, taking third (189 pounds).
PLEASANTVILLE and OSSINING were eighth and ninth, respectively, with 79 and 78 points.
Quinn Egan was the 138-pound runner-up among Pleasantville’s five top-six finishers. Ossining also had five place finishers, highlighted by 160-finalist Tristan Robinson-July.
HEN HUD had Ismael Andrade (145), Connor Harbolic (215) and Mason Dietz (285) place fourth.
Eighth-grader Ryan Ball, an up-and-coming grappler to keep an eye on, of SOMERS/NORTH SALEM finished third at 102 pounds in his first Westchester County Championships showing and teammate Anthony Tucci (145) was sixth.
CROTON, under first-year coach and Croton sectional champion David Occhipinti, had two place finishers – Colin Kooney was fourth at 172 and Mekhi Smithwick finished fifth at 160.
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