When Father Judge’s Joe Galasso would watch the NCAA wrestling championships with his father while growing up on Edgemont Street in Port Richmond, something always pulled him like a magnet toward the participants from Cornell University.
There was a special, unexplainable lore about an Ivy League school that was able to compete with the country’s best schools on the wrestling mat. Someday, Galasso told himself, that would be him wearing the Big Red uniform and vying for championships on the biggest of stages.
“Ever since I knew what I was talking about as far as wrestling and college go, I knew I wanted to go to Cornell,” Galasso said. “I’d always hear about how those kids just held themselves to a higher standard. It’s in the Ivy League, and they do well in wrestling. For me, it would represent the best of both worlds.”
Last week, Galasso made it official by committing to Cornell the summer before his senior year. For Galasso, it was a dream come true; for anyone who witnessed the year he just had wrestling for Judge, it came as no surprise at all.
Galasso became the first state wrestling champion from Philadelphia back in March, capturing the 138-pound title at the Pennsylvania tournament in Hershey. It was a huge accomplishment for Galasso, as well as the city itself, where wrestling is not viewed as popular or mainstream as it is in other towns across the state.
He certainly got the attention of Cornell head coach Rob Koll, who made the commitment official during a recent visit to Galasso’s home. Galasso will most likely wrestle at 149 pounds for the Big Red; the fact that he was the only one Cornell recruited at that weight class spoke volumes to Galasso about the opportunity in front of him.
“It’s one big relief,” Galasso said by phone Sunday from a dormitory on Cornell’s campus in Ithaca, N.Y., where he was attending a wrestling camp. “All of my life, my dad and I set scary high standards for myself. Ever since I signed with Cornell, the dreams that once seemed scary … now, they’re reachable.”
While wrestling may not be the most popular high school sport in Philadelphia, it’s an entirely different animal up at Cornell. The Big Red hasn’t had a losing season since 1985-86, and finished as national runner-ups in the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and 2011. This season, senior Kyle Dake became the face of college wrestling, winning the collegiate wrestler of the year honor and becoming the first to win national titles at four different weight classes.
In fact, wrestling at Cornell is so big that the program’s Facebook page has almost 16,000 likes to go along with more than 7,500 followers on Twitter.
Galasso knows what he’s getting himself into, and he can’t wait.
“I was doing a happy dance after I signed,” he said. “Like I said after I won state, all the hard work I’ve put into wrestling has paid off, and I’ll continue to just try my best. And as far as school goes, I’ve always worked hard in that. As my dad has always told me, wrestling is going to end no matter how good you are, so it’s up to you to set yourself up for success after that. Cornell is the best place for me to succeed in both areas.”
When asked to describe Cornell’s 4,800-acre campus that sits on a hill overlooking Cayuga Lake, he said, “It’s beautiful. Absolutely breathtaking. I really can’t stop smiling.”
Galasso said he expects to enroll in Cornell’s business school, which is nationally ranked as one of the best in the country. He knows it will be difficult, something he’s preparing for by taking all honors-level classes his senior year at Judge.
Although Galasso has already committed to Cornell before his senior year has begun, don’t expect him to just coast through. There are challenges he’s still yet to cross off his list, namely winning back-to-back state titles. He’s currently ranked fourth in the country in his weight class, and he wants to move up.
“I’m not satisfied,” he said. “And I won’t be, not until I win two.”
He’s beyond thankful for his time at Judge, where he transferred after spending his freshman year at Malvern Prep.
“Judge has made me more of a man,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, Malvern is an awesome school that’s crazy good academically … but at Judge it’s just different. The teachers always talked to me like a person instead of a student, and they got the best out of me by always challenging me.”
Above all else, Galasso is hoping his story persuades other kids to pursue wrestling at the highest level. He still volunteers at his local Police Athletic League club, where he’s become a bit of a celebrity amongst the kids.
“I hope I inspire them,” he said. “If they take it serious to the level I did and believe they can do it, then they can be just like me, a regular kid from Port Richmond. As soon as you believe you can do it, then you most likely will.
“It’s still very hard for me to put this into words right now. I think I’m still processing all of it, but I’m going to keep working hard to show the coaches at Cornell who put all their marbles in my basket that they made the right choice. People kept saying, ‘Ivy League, can you do it?’ Hell yeah, I can do it, even if I have to stay up until 3 a.m. every night to study. I’m just sitting on Cloud Nine right now.” ••