Nutley’s DeMaio punches wrestling ticket to Atlantic City

When he finished third last week in the NJSIAA District 10 championships, Nutley High School senior 160-pound wrestler Frank DeMaio was extremely disappointed.

“I was in a pretty bad place,” DeMaio said. “I just wanted to get out of there. Coming into the district, my goal was to win it. I knew then that it was all or nothing. If I lost again, my high school career would be over. Or I could keep winning to get what I really wanted.”

Although his father, Frank, Sr., the recreation director in the Parks and Recreation Department for the township of Nutley, was a standout football player at Nutley High and Bucknell University, the younger DeMaio gravitated towards wrestling.

“I just kind of liked wrestling more from the first day,” DeMaio said. “I wanted to be like my Dad. He’s my role model. But wrestling was always my thing and they all knew that. I’m not the biggest guy in the world, so we talked about me wrestling and not playing football. Dad was on board with it.”

The DeMaio family is a close knit bunch. Frank and his wife, Jodi, their two daughters Breanna and Lia and son Frank, do everything together.

“It’s great having such a huge fan base,” DeMaio said. “They all want what’s best for me.”

The family is comprised of athletes. Breanna, three years older than Frank, was a very good softball player at Nutley who went on to play at Felician University. Lia, four years younger than Frank, is an excellent softball player and basketball player with a very bright future. She will enter Nutley High in the fall.

“Frank comes from a great family,” said Nutley head wrestling coach Mike DiPiano, who admits to being good friends with the older DeMaio. “Frank is a very family oriented kid. His sisters are at the matches. He’s a high character family kid. I don’t hide it that he’s like part of my family. We’re close friends and I’m not afraid to say it. I’ve never favored Frankie. He puts the work in.”

So here it was: DeMaio’s wrestling career coming down to one match last Wednesday in the Region 3 pre-quarterfinal round. If he won, he moved on. If he lost, it was time to call it a career, even after winning the 100th match of his storied career earlier in the districts.

Collecting the 100th win was an event that wasn’t lost on DeMaio.

“It was a pretty big moment,” DeMaio said. “I remember freshman year and looking up at the banner (with all the 100-win wrestlers) and I wanted to get my name up on that banner. I made it my goal. I really didn’t think it was possible. I can’t even explain it, but I didn’t think it would happen.”

“We wrestle a good schedule,” DiPiano said. “It’s why we go to Notre Dame and Robbinsville to wrestle. It’s to get better at the season’s end. There’s a plan in everything we do.”

So heading into the Region 3 tourney, DiPiano thought that DeMaio had a chance to advance, even coming out of the pre-quarterfinal round.

“Coming out of the districts, we set a plan of what we wanted,” DiPiano said. “When we saw what the (Region 3) bracket looked like, we thought we had a good chance.”

So DeMaio had to wrestle his way out of the Region 3 tourney if he wanted to get a chance to go to the state championships in Atlantic City.

He first defeated Nicholas Hildebrandt of Warren Hills with a first period pin in 1:34, then defeated Josh Ramos of Phillipsburg, 5-0, to advance to the semifinals.

In the semifinals, DeMaio lost to Matthew Liberato of Hanover Park, but then needed two wins to get out of the consolation round to take third place. He defeated Thomas Tigliano of Whippany Park, 8-2, then defeated John DeVito of West Morris, 7-6, to earn the third place medal and the right to advance to the state championships this weekend.

In winning four times in a span of 48 hours, DeMaio has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

DeMaio said that getting the first win last Wednesday set him up for the rest of the tournament.

“I kind of like wrestling the first day,” said DeMaio, who did not want to get a bye like the rest of the district champions. “Getting a win on Wednesday put me in a good attitude to wrestle on Friday. I was comfortable and confident. I wanted to win a couple more matches. I’m definitely ready to go to Atlantic City and spring some upsets. It’s a whole new tournament down there.”

DiPiano said that watching DeMaio try to fulfill a dream was rewarding.

“It was very emotional for all of us,” DiPiano said. “Whenever you get a kid to advance to Atlantic City, you’re very thankful.”

DiPiano said that it marks the 26th straight year that Nutley advanced at least one wrestler to Atlantic City. There will be two Maroon Raiders competing in A.C., as 170-pounder Frank Gabriele took fourth to move on to mess with the state’s best.

“That’s a staggering number for a school like Nutley,” said Mike DiPiano, who took over the program when his brother Frank moved back to their alma mater St. Benedict’s Prep, four years ago. “When Frankie won his 100th match, I hugged him and said in his ear, ‘Now let’s focus on Atlantic City.’ That’s the kind of kid he is. He’s now made it and now he wants to get there and win some matches.”

DeMaio has already signed his national letter of intent to wrestle at Delaware Valley University next fall.

“It’s great, because I don’t have to worry about going to Atlantic City and trying to impress people,” DeMaio said. “I don’t have to go out and prove anything to anybody. I already have a home.”

DiPiano is excited to have two wrestlers competing among the state’s best.

“I’m proud of both of our kids,” DiPiano said. “Frankie Gabriele is a success story. It shows the kind of direction they had. It is a big deal to be able to send both. We will be prepared.”

“We’ve been wrestling together since we were in second grade,” DeMaio said. “He’s been my wrestling partner all the way. It will be so great to have him down there with me.”


Nutley 160-pound senior Frank DeMaio. Photo by Jim Hague

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”