Tag Archives: Nick Garoffolo

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.

Sportsmen (And Women) Of Westport

The Sportsmen of Westport annual dinner is always an interesting affair.

The event — now in its 51st year — honors an eclectic group of former athletes. Many competed as youngsters in Westport; some arrived here after their playing days were over, but got involved in town sports.

All have intriguing stories to tell.

Three wrestlers will be honored at this year’s dinner (Tuesday, May 22, 6 p.m., Continental Manor in Norwalk). Nick Garoffolo, Mike Breen and Andy Lobsenz were all stars during Staples’ grappling heyday; all continue to give back to their sport, long after their days on the mat are over.

Ex-Staples baseball and football standout Jeb Backus — later a softball star, now a youth coach — will be feted. So will Danbury High basketball, field hockey and track ace Janet Zamary, who went on to become Staples’ first athletic trainer, and now as a phys. ed. teacher heads up the school’s highly regarded Unified Sports program for students with disabilities. And longtime Little League volunteer Joe Nixon too.

Three other honorees have gone on to non-athletic careers.  But they may not be where they are today without the lessons they learned as kids, on the fields.

George Barrett

George Barrett was a superb soccer, basketball and baseball player at Staples. A back injury ended his soccer career at Brown University. He coached and taught at the Horace Mann School in New York, and got an MBA at NYU. Today he’s chairman and CEO of Cardinal Health, ranked #19 on the Fortune 500, and a major healthcare company. He serves on numerous civic and charitable boards, and has an honorary doctorate from LIU.

Suzanne Allen Redpath

Suzy Allen played field hockey and ran track for legendary Staples coach Jinny Parker. After Hollins College she joined CBS News, where she’s had an astonishing 40-year career. She was Walter Cronkite’s researcher during Watergate; covered earth-shaking events like the rise of Solidarity in Poland and the Falklands War, and then — as CBS Evening News senior producer for foreign coverage — directed and oversaw stories like the fall of communism, the emergence of democracy in China, and 9/11. Suzy — now Suzanne Allen Redpath — has won Emmy and DuPont Awards, and received an honorary doctorate from Hollins.

Rich Franzis

Rich Franzis is known to many Westporters as an assistant principal at Staples. Many do not know that he played football at Shelton High. A longtime U.S. Army reservist with the rank of colonel, he was deployed to Iraq where he oversaw the intelligence operations of 5 brigades. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his service.

George, Suzy, Rich and the other very worthy honorees may or may not discuss the role athletics has played in their lives, when they make their speeches May 22.

But — if they’re anything like the five decades of Sportsmen honorees before them — they’ll definitely tell tales of games, coaches, teammates and opponents in the social hour before the dinner, all during the meal, and long into the night.

They’ve accomplished plenty professionally, in the years since the last whistles blew.

But at this month’s banquet — and, really, their entire lives — they’re sportsmen. The capital letter — Sportsmen — is just one more feather in their caps.

(Tickets, at $50 each, are available at Settlers & Traders Real Estate, 215 Post Road West; Junior’s Hot Dog Stand, 265 Riverside Avenue, or by emailing karen_defelice@westport.k12.ct.us. For more information call 203-341-1365, or click here. )