‘Every Philadelphia wrestler should want to be Joe Galasso’

Joe Galasso, a Fath­er Judge ju­ni­or who lives on Ed­ge­mont Street in Port Rich­mond, pins his op­pon­ent in the PI­AA state wrest­ling cham­pi­on­ship Sat­urday in Her­shey, Pa., which he went on to win. PHOTO COUR­TESY OF JOE HER­MITT

On Sat­urday night, the Fath­er Judge ju­ni­or from Port Rich­mond be­came the first Phil­adelphia wrest­ler to win a state cham­pi­on­ship. Galasso’s coach said the wrest­ling won­der has put his team on the map.

Pennsylvania breeds high school wrest­ling cham­pi­ons in places like Ea­st­on, Clear­field and Can­ons­burg.

Now, you can add Port Rich­mond and Fath­er Judge High School to the list.

On Sat­urday night, Judge ju­ni­or Joe Galasso cap­tured the 138-pound cham­pi­on­ship at the Pennsylvania In­ter­schol­ast­ic Ath­let­ic As­so­ci­ation Class AAA Wrest­ling Tour­na­ment at the Gi­ant Cen­ter in Her­shey.

“It’s the toughest state tour­na­ment in the coun­try,” Galasso said.

High school wrest­ling is not nearly as pop­u­lar in Phil­adelphia as it is in sub­urb­an and rur­al areas of Pennsylvania. Of­ten, city wrest­lers get their start at the high school level. By that time, many of their coun­ter­parts already have a dec­ade’s ex­per­i­ence.

The PI­AA has been hold­ing wrest­ling tour­na­ments since 1938. The or­gan­iz­a­tion also sanc­tions state cham­pi­on­ships in many oth­er sports.

Phil­adelphia Cath­ol­ic and Pub­lic League schools did not join un­til more re­cently. The Pub­lic League joined in 2004, the Cath­ol­ic League four years later.

To­geth­er, they make up the PI­AA’s Dis­trict 12.

Galasso is the first Dis­trict 12 wrest­ler to win a state cham­pi­on­ship. He hopes oth­ers will fol­low.

“I’m hop­ing every­body in D-12 gets in­spired and changes their per­spect­ive,” he said.

Galasso played oth­er sports and par­ti­cip­ated in kar­ate un­til start­ing to wrestle at age 9. He got his start with the Ju­ni­or Fal­cons and Po­lice Ath­let­ic League pro­grams, and now he’s a state cham­pi­on.

“It’s a really ex­cit­ing time for Phil­adelphia wrest­ling, the Po­lice Ath­let­ic League, the Ju­ni­or Fal­cons and Beat the Streets (a youth wrest­ling pro­gram),” said Judge coach Jim Sav­age. “Joe Galasso put our team on the na­tion­al map. Every Phil­adelphia wrest­ler should want to be Joe Galasso.”

Galasso, 17, lives on Ed­ge­mont Street, on the same block as Sav­age, a former wrest­ler and coach at North Cath­ol­ic.

“They breed us a little tough­er there,” Sav­age said.

“We al­ways ar­gue who the toughest guy on Ed­ge­mont Street is,” Galasso joked.

Galasso emerged as a top youth wrest­ler and soon sought out tough­er com­pet­i­tion.

When it was time for Galasso to se­lect a high school, he chose Mal­vern Prep. As a fresh­man, he went 41-6 and placed fourth at 125 pounds at the Na­tion­al Prep Cham­pi­on­ships.

For his sopho­more year, he en­rolled at Judge. He went 43-6 and took fifth at 132 pounds at the state tour­na­ment.

“One thing Joe Galasso has is no fear,” Sav­age said. “He is very con­fid­ent.”

Galasso fin­ished this sea­son 45-1 to im­prove his ca­reer re­cord to 128-10.

The one loss was an over­time set­back to Benton seni­or Zain Reth­er­ford, a two-time Class AA state cham­pi­on and Penn State re­cruit who won a gold medal last Au­gust at the FILA Ca­det World Cham­pi­on­ships in Azerbaijan.

The road to Galasso’s state title was not easy.

“I had the toughest draw in the brack­et. I beat three medal­ists,” he said.

Galasso won by a 14-4 ma­jor de­cision in Thursday’s first round, then pos­ted a 5-2 quarterfi­nal vic­tory on Fri­day against Coun­cil Rock North’s John Dutrow, a Drexel re­cruit who even­tu­ally fin­ished third. He scored a take­down with four seconds to go to win his Sat­urday morn­ing semi­final match­up with Frank­lin Re­gion­al’s Josh Maruca, who went on to take fifth.

In Sat­urday night’s fi­nal, he squared off with Cent­ral Dauph­in’s Tyson Dip­pery, a Rut­gers re­cruit who fin­ished second in the state last year and third the year be­fore.

The show­down went in­to over­time, and Galasso re­cor­ded a take­down 16 seconds in­to the ex­tra ses­sion to clinch the cham­pi­on­ship with a 3-1 vic­tory.

Galasso ac­cep­ted his gold medal and stood on top of a po­di­um as dozens of cam­er­as flashed.

When he walked in­to the Hol­i­day Inn bar, wrest­lers, coaches and fans were watch­ing a re­play of the cham­pi­on­ships on the Pennsylvania Cable Net­work.

“They all gave me a stand­ing ova­tion,” Galasso said.

On the mat, Galasso is fo­cused on his op­pon­ent. He didn’t real­ize un­til watch­ing the TV re­play how ex­cited the 7,000 or so fans got at watch­ing a state cham­pi­on­ship match de­cided in over­time.

“I heard every­body go­ing crazy,” said Galasso, who re­ceived a con­grat­u­lat­ory call from Judge’s pres­id­ent, the Rev. Joe Campel­lone, the next day.

Galasso, of course, wants to be a re­peat cham­pi­on. He’ll com­pete in off-sea­son tour­na­ments. One of the big­gies is the Su­per 32 Chal­lenge: Battle for the Belt in Oc­to­ber in Greens­boro, N.C.

Col­leges will really be­gin to no­tice Galasso now. A strong stu­dent with a 94 grade point av­er­age, his choices in­clude Cor­nell, Penn, Prin­ceton, Le­high, Buck­nell and North Car­o­lina.

“Joe is just a tre­mend­ous kid. He’s worked ex­tremely hard and really cares about his grades. His per­son­al­ity is in­fec­tious, ” Sav­age said.

Galasso is grate­ful to his par­ents, Joe and Ren­ee, for tak­ing him to so many tour­na­ments and prac­tices over the years.

Next March, he hopes to win an­oth­er gold medal. The work has already be­gun.

“I want to be stay­ing on top of my game,” he said. “If I’m not at wrest­ling prac­tice, I’ll be in the gym lift­ing.”

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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