Galasso pins a title win

Mo­ment of glory: Fath­er Judge’s Joe Galasso re­acts after earn­ing the 138-pound PI­AA class AAA cham­pi­on­ship at the Gi­ant Cen­ter in Her­shey. Galasso is Phil­adelphia’s first-ever state wrest­ling cham­pi­on. PHOTO COUR­TESY FATH­ER JUDGE ATH­LET­ICS

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 (PI­AA) Class AAA Wrest­ling Tour­na­ment at the Gi­ant Cen­ter in Her­shey. He is the first high school wrest­ler from Phil­adelphia to win a state title.

“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 don’t get their starts un­til high school. 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, Dis­trict 12’s first wrest­ler to win a state cham­pi­on­ship, 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 he star­ted 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. “I’m happy for our pro­gram. 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 quickly emerged as a top youth wrest­ler and soon sought out tough­er com­pet­i­tion. He re­calls prac­tices at one club in Voorhees, N.J.

“I got the liv­ing snot kicked out of me by older kids,” he said.

But, as Galasso soon found out, fa­cing good com­pet­i­tion makes for a bet­ter wrest­ler down the line.

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

However, it was an ex­haust­ing com­mute. Galasso would start his day at 5:30 a.m. by catch­ing the SEPTA Route 60 bus to Kens­ing­ton and Al­legheny av­en­ues. He’d take the El to Cen­ter City, then a train and an­oth­er bus to get to Mal­vern. Dur­ing wrest­ling sea­son, he wouldn’t get home un­til 9 p.m.

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

In the off-sea­son, he took his wrest­ling skills to an­oth­er level.

“I prac­ticed fun­da­ment­als to per­fect them,” he said.

Sav­age saw a dif­fer­ence.

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

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

The one loss was an over­time set­back to Benton (Pa.) High 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. Galasso scored a take­down with four seconds to go to win his Sat­urday morn­ing semi­final match­up with Frank­lin Re­gion­al’s Josh Maruca, who fin­ished 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. He shook Dip­pery’s hand, the ref­er­ee raised his hand in vic­tory and the new cham­pi­on jumped in­to his coach’s arms.

Galasso ac­cep­ted his gold medal and stood on top of a po­di­um as dozens of cam­er­as flashed. He posed for more pic­tures with the oth­er cham­pi­ons be­fore head­ing back to his hotel.

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 tele­vi­sion 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, and 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.

The teen­ager will also be lift­ing weights and trav­el­ing any­where he can get a good prac­tice.

One of his fa­vor­ite workout part­ners is Kennard-Dale ju­ni­or Chance Marsteller, a three-time state cham­pi­on who has mats in a con­ver­ted barn at his York County home. He has no prob­lem trav­el­ing to Marsteller’s home, even though it’s al­most in Mary­land, be­cause he knows it’ll be a pro­duct­ive prac­tice ses­sion.

Col­leges will really be­gin to no­tice Galasso now. A strong stu­dent with a 94 av­er­age, his wish list in­cludes 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. I’m happy for him,” 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 already has 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 twar­

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