By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Scot Weaver thought he had built something special when he first was the wrestling coach at Queen of Peace.
After all, the former Lyndhurst coach and current resident of the township did build the fledgling Golden Griffins wrestling program into a state power in just three years.
Weaver coached a three-time state champion in Frank Cagnina, who won state titles twice wearing the QP singlet. Weaver also mentored state medalists like Jamie Westwood, Matt Fusco and Glenn Cannici while leading the Golden Griffins to prominence both on the Bergen County and NJSIAA levels.
But four years ago, Weaver left, much like most coaches who work at QP, for a host of reasons. One reason was a lack of a place to practice. The team was forced to use an old storage room in the old Boystown facility, run by the CYO, on Belgrove Drive in Kearny.
“The bottom line was that there were problems between me and the administration there at the time,” Weaver said. “When I left, I thought I was done there forever. I put it all in the rearview mirror.”
Queen of Peace wrestling struggled without Weaver and the sport eventually died with no proper leadership.
Last year, soon-to-be former principal John Bellocchio and former athletic director Ed Abromaitis contacted Weaver and asked if he would be willing to come back to revive the wrestling program at the school.
“I told them that what I was promised in the past didn’t come through,” said Weaver, who was once promised a private workout facility for his wrestlers that never came to fruition. “They really had to entice me to come back. I was always in contact with them. I still live here (in Lyndhurst).”
Weaver had been coaching at Brearley Regional in Kenilworth, but he felt that he had run his course there.
“It was a dead-end game there for me after four years,” Weaver said. “Nothing developed there. So the timing was right.”
Sure enough, Weaver agreed to come back to Queen of Peace and bring the wrestling program out from the ashes.
“I had about 100 people or so ask me if I was nuts,” Weaver said. “But I never said I wouldn’t come back. Until they fulfilled their part of the bargain by getting me a wrestling room and giving me full support, I wasn’t going to consider it.”
Weaver, Bellocchio and Abromaitis met several times and went over classroom space in the school that could be converted into a wrestling room.
Eventually, three classrooms in the school’s basement were changed over and replaced with mats and proper padding to have a full-fledged wrestling room for the first time. There was no more need to roll out mats in the gym and cafeteria.
“It was definitely doable,” Weaver said after the plans for the wrestling room were presented.
Weaver also wanted to make sure that the school agreed to allowing him the ability to bring kids into the school to start the program again.
“They accepted my recommendations (for transfers),” Weaver said. “They also agreed to let us travel and attend high school tournaments. The bottom line was that I didn’t reach out to any kids. There are always disgruntled kids who perhaps don’t feel they are worthy in another program, who feel they’re not wrestling in the proper venue. I think that putting kids in the proper venue, with the right practice facilities, giving them an opportunity to move on into college, would attract kids.”
Weaver was asked if the approach could be construed as recruiting. A few years ago, QP had to answer to the NJSIAA about possible illegal recruiting for wrestling.
“Those allegations were dismissed by the state,” Weaver said. “There’s a small wrestling community, parents who get the word out. This time around, I did talk to parents and told them that here we are, giving kids a chance to be coached by me and my staff in a brand new facility. It’s a great opportunity.”
Whether it will be perceived as recruiting throughout the state remains to be seen. For now, Weaver is back with a full roster of wrestlers who he thinks can contend with a state power like DePaul Catholic for the NJSIAA Non- Public B state crown this year.
“We’re extremely competitive and have some of the top competitors in northern New Jersey,” Weaver said. “We have some guys who are not on the mat for the first time and others we are teaching. The product you see now will not be the same you will see at the end of February. We’re going to be much improved by then. We are going to compete at the state level. Is it possible to beat DePaul? Anything is possible, once you’re able to compete.”
The Golden Griffins have two wrestlers at 106 pounds in talented freshman Enrique Sanchez and freshman Matt Armamento. Sanchez was a finalist at a recent Maryland tournament and won two matches at the prestigious Beast of the East tourney in Delaware.
The 113-pound class is being shared by junior Jeremy Puente, a transfer from Kearny, and sophomore Ray Wetzel, a transfer from Brearley, where he won the District 11 title and finished third at Region 3.
Junior Anthony DeLorenzo is a transfer from Nutley who holds down the 126-pound class. DeLorenzo won the Mountain Madness tourney in Maryland, defeating three other reigning state champions in the process.
“He’s doing very well,” Weaver said of DeLorenzo. “He’s a stud. He’s a mature, tough kid.”
Junior Mike Scaravelli is the team’s 132-pounder. Scaravelli is a transfer from Paramus Catholic, where he was a District finalist.
The 138-pound class is being shared by junior Diego Lopez and sophomore Jahki Smith, both of whom have been students at Queen of Peace all along and decided to join wrestling.
The same can be said for 145-pound senior Shaquan Chavis, who joined the QP wrestling team after football season was completed.
Joe Rocca, a 152-pound senior, is a transfer from Elmwood Park, where he finished second in the District and fourth at Region 2.
Mim Salaam is a 160-pound sophomore who is wrestling for the first time. The same can be said for 171-pound freshman Ariel Molina and 182-pound freshman Yasim Peppers, both of whom were football standouts in the fall.
Senior Jeff Velez is a transfer from Brearley Regional where Weaver formerly coached. The 195-pound Velez already owns a scholarship to Old Dominion. Velez won a high school national title last year, as well as winning District 11 and Region 2. Velez should be one of the top wrestlers locally this season. Velez finished eighth at the Beast of the East and was second at the Mountain Madness tourney.
“If he continues to wrestle well, he could be up for a state championship this year,” Weaver said of Velez.
Christian Reyna, a newcomer, is the team’s 220-pounder, while football standout Chima Dunga is the Griffins’ heavyweight.
“He never wrestled before, but he’s just tough and big and strong,” Weaver said of Dunga, who was sixth at Mountain Madness. “He might be inexperienced now, but he’s going to get quicker and better. In February, he’s going to be a much better wrestler.”
So Weaver has returned. So has QP wrestling.
“I feel we have a competitive team right away,” Weaver said. “We have the makings of a good team. We will be ready by February.”