Alumni Pin Hopes On Staples Wrestlers

Mark Ryzewicz is a successful orthopedic surgeon in Cody, Wyoming. His Staples High School wrestling days are long behind him.

But the 1991 state open finalist remembers his days as a Wrecker fondly. So — when the call went out recently for fundraising help — he responded quickly, gladly and generously.

He was not alone. A dozen other former grapplers sent their own very generous checks.

Just as importantly, they sent emails. With passion, emotion and great gratitude, they described what the sport did for them in their formative years.

The individuality of wrestling — a physical loss is very personal, but you come back tougher and better for the experience, develop resilience and ultimately — was important, Ryzewicz wrote.

So was the team aspect. Every member helps every other wrestler improve. Even an inexperienced athlete who avoids a pin can save enough points so the entire squad ekes out a victory.

Mark Ryzewicz (bottom row, center) was unable to compete in the 1990 New England tournament due to an injury. He was there with (bottom, from left) Steve Uydess and assistant coach Skip Garoffolo, and (top) head coach Nick Garoffolo, Dan Haid, Zach Cahill and assistant coach Terry Brannigan.

Camaraderie develops through the intimate process of winning, losing, training, being physically beaten, gaining strength and confidence.

Ryzewicz notes that “in terms of socioeconomic, class and body type,” no sport is as diverse as wrestling. Success comes from “taking what you have, then figuring out how to make the most of it” — with, of course, the help of teammates and coaches.

Ryzewicz used the lessons of resilience and teamwork learned on the Staples mats well. First, after Stanford University — where he continued wrestling — he worked for several years as a cowboy on a 100,000-plus-acre Wyoming ranch.

Then he went to medical school. Residency involved 100-hour work weeks or more. He had personal struggles.

But the principles were the same: Don’t quit. Work hard. Find teammates to help him succeed.

In Cody, Ryzewicz’s operating room runs using a “wrestling teamwork model.” When his 6-year-old began wrestling recently — and earned a 5th-place ribbon — the former Staples wrestler drove him home, and reflected on the sport.

With the sun setting over the prairie, and sagebrush passing by, Ryzewicz thought about the impact his coaches and teammates had on his life.

The 1990 Staples High School wrestling team.

So when Terry Brannigan — another Staples grappling alum, who still lives here and whose own sons also wrestle — put out the call for help, the response was natural.

Brannigan is a founder of the Staples Mat Men. The parent group wants to “relaunch” the program. They hope to bring it back to the days of packed gyms, state tournament contenders, and dozens of athletes sweating, training, learning the same lessons that served Ryzewicz, Brannigan (and Jamie Breen, Pete Cahill, Zach Cahill, Adam Lau, Dave Santella, Ryan Sorley, Ken Shubin Stein, Ryan Thomas, Greg Torok and so many others — all coached by Nick Garoffolo) so well.

Brannigan — hearkening back to Garoffolo’s own mentors, Saul Pollack and John Chacho — is glad that the lifelong friendships and valuable lessons he learned on the mat will be experienced by his own 3 sons. (TJ is already an excellent junior on the team.)

He’s worked steadily for 2 years to help a program that had fallen on hard times: low numbers, several coaches, without a wrestling room to call its own.

New coach Fred Mills — a veteran of the famed Danbury program — is excited to help bring the program to the next level.

TJ Brannigan (left) and George Harrington at the state tournament in March. Harrington — only a junior — advanced all the way to the national event.

Earlier this month, Brannigan contacted some of the “kids” he and Garoffolo coached 25 years ago. He asked for help, funding things like extra assistant coaches, clinics and more.  “What happened next is remarkable,” he says.

Emails, texts and phone calls cascaded in. Checks, too. (One alum said, “I’m traveling but can wire it if you need it right now.”)

Zach Cahill wrote, “the wrestling community made it feel like what we were doing as young athletes really mattered. It was an enormous advantage to have that kind of support. It is a gift I carry with me to this day.”

Not one of those former wrestlers — except Brannigan — lives in Westport.

That didn’t matter.

When one wrestler asked, they came through — no questions asked.

If the current Staples wrestling team is anything like its storied predecessors, the future looks bright indeed.

9 responses to “Alumni Pin Hopes On Staples Wrestlers

  1. Charles Taylor

    Awesome alumni response! Well done Wrecker grapplers!

  2. I don’t think there is a more physically demanding sport and I bet those guys are doing great at whatever they decide. Touche’

  3. Wrestling is the most demanding sport that I can think of — both physically and mentally. Reading your article about the Staples wrestling program brought back memories of an incredible group of kids. Zach Cahill, Mark Ryzewicz, Dan Haid, Steve Uydess, Ryan (Trouble) Sorley and many more that were so influential for my stepson Jeff Bolan and his co-captain James Lobsenz. Not only were these guys excellent wrestlers, but also excellent students and rock solid kids.
    Terry was a very devoted coach who helped these kids on and off the mat. At the encouragement of Deputy Police Chief Sam Arciola, my mentee, Dylan Marone, joined the wrestling team his sophomore year and became captain his senior year. I saw the same growth and maturity in Dylan that Jeff experienced. As Mark said, wrestling is an individual effort, but also a team sport that builds character and discipline. Staples Wrestling deserves our support! Thanks Dan, I know all you do for the sport too.

  4. Great post Dan. Great to see how these guys continue their fraternity -brother like bond. Says a lot about the character and dedication this alumni group has. Doing it all in such a modest way.

  5. Bill Boyd... Staples 66

    Great inspiring article!

  6. Terry Brannigan

    Thanks Dan! One thing that Dan did not mention is that he was one of the very first to make a donation to the Mat Men. I am in fact a proud member of the Mat Men Wrestling Boosters, however I am not a founding member (I don’t want to take credit for the good work these guys have done).

    What an amazing experience this has been. From Adam Lau texting me that he was traveling but could wire the funds if I needed immediately, to the absolutely amazing generosity of the Cahill brothers (Peter and Zach) and Ryan Thomas both making donations in the name of their mothers, it has been nothing short of a scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

    I have often asked if Wrestling builds these kinds of individual or attracts them? The names from this chapter are only a subset of a larger population of men of high character who share this life experience. When we are together, we almost never talk about scores, we talk about the people and the friends we have made along the way and the pride we feel for our time together.

    This is what I am devoted to ensuring my 3 boys get from the sport and is what the focus of the “reboot” of the program is all about.

    Thank you Nick Garoffolo for asking me to coach with you for the better part of a decade and thank you to the amazing men who are enabling us to pay it forward to the next set of Staples Wrestlers! Please com cheer them on!

    • Claire Harrington

      Thankyou Terry for all you do for these boys. My son George is relatively new to wrestling ( started in sophomore year ) and without your constant support and encouragement would certainly not got to where he has come today. Even at Nationals you were on the phone to me and watching him online offering advice and encouragement. Robert and I are extremely grateful for this. Hoping George as captain this year will lead his team to a successful season. Thankyou Terry and all alumni.

  7. Linda and Steve Stein

    Wonderful post about a wonderful sport. What many parents and kids may not know- wrestling levels the playing field by allowing athletes to compete by their weight class. It teaches individual responsibility, tactics, sportsmanship, team spirit and discipline. (And many of the Staples wrestlers also excelled in other sports- football and track- and were in the band, on the math team, did audiovisual club and participated in Staples Players. )

    Back in 1980’s and 1990’s when our sons ( Rich and Evan) wrestled, the town had a feeder system to the high school team- Coach Cacho ran a YMCA program Saturday mornings for the elementary through junior high schools, the junior high schools had their own coaches and their teams competed against the other junior high teams . And – YES- the town had a series of excellent high school coaches – our sons wrestled for- John Cacho, The Garaffalo brothers( Nick and Skip) and Terry Brannigan. They were also coached by their teammates , many of whom were state championship level wrestlers, who taught their skills to the new kids just joining the team!!

    So where do we send a contribution and to whom do we write the check?

  8. In golf good golfers remember their bad shots… and bad golfers remember their good shots… in wrestling all wrestlers remember the sweat, pain, strains, sore muscles, blood, and the satisfaction of accomplishment. Finishing a tough practice, or match, or tournament, or making weight…. all things you understand if you were a wrestler… most everyone always thought there were either screws loose or rocks in our head… but just to let you know … back to back years perfect math scores on the SATs were achieved… I also. Believe there are at least 4 practicing MDs a fith finished but runs a hedge fund … and each and every one has a tale to tell of time in the room or on the mat…Like Madonna,Cher, Mick, Keith in Staples Wrestling you can say a single name Terry, Skip, Nick,Smitty, Dan, Breen and the real legend …we all owe it to: OG Chacho… Staples Wrestling has a long prosperous history… and more chapters are to be written.