Midway through the current high school wrestling season, Belleville High School sophomore Rocco Negron thought that his season was over. Negron’s shoulder was bent the wrong way and for all intents and purposes, the injury was going to be a season-ender.
“I thought that was it,” said Negron, the Buccaneers’ 132-pounder. “I didn’t think I could come back. I couldn’t move it at all.”
Negron was certain that the sprained shoulder would not recover in time to return to action. As it was, Negron missed the Essex County Tournament, as well as an assortment of regular season matches.
“I couldn’t practice for a couple of weeks,” Negron said. “I didn’t think it could come back to normal.”
Negron was fitted with a harness to protect the shoulder as much as possible.
“I did a little bit of physical therapy and rested some,” Negron said. “I started to feel a little bit better. I got the shoulder sleeve and I figured I could do it wearing the sleeve.”
Negron said that the shoulder was not going to deter him from trying to fulfill his lifelong dream.
“Ever since I was a little boy, I always told myself that I would eventually go to Atlantic City,” Negron said.
Negron received some encouragement from one of Belleville’s wrestling legends, namely Filiberto Colon, a three-time participant in the NJSIAA state championships in Atlantic City. It was the destination of Negron’s dream.
“Filiberto always told me that I could do it,” Negron said. “But not once did I think I could go.”
However, the dream has become a reality, because after finishing fourth at the NJSIAA Region 3 tournament last weekend at West Orange High, Negron punched his ticket for Atlantic City, the first Belleville wrestler to compete in the states since David Guerra took two strips to AC during his Buccaneer wrestling career, the last coming three years ago in 2019. Guerra is currently wrestling for the fledgling program at New Jersey City University.
Negron had to win a tough match against Brandon Jo Dean of West Morris, earning a reversal with three seconds left to defeat Dean, who began the season as one of the top ranked wrestlers in the state. Negron earned a hard-fought 4-2 decision over Dean.
“I felt like he was riding me a little high, so I could get him,” Negron said. “It was just my time. I got the two points and started to go crazy. It means everything to me. As a sophomore, it means even more, because I could get other chances to go. No matter what now, I’ll be there. It’s a really great feeling.”
Belleville head coach Joe Pizzi was impressed with the way Negron battled through the tough weight class at the region.
“We didn’t know how he would do against the highly rated kid Dean,” Pizzi said. “But Rocco had been wrestling like a man possessed. Even before he got hurt, he was on a roll, having won 12 in a row. We wanted to make sure he had a chance to get to AC. We wanted to see if he could work his way back after the injury. I’m extremely happy for the kid. He’s a phenomenal kid. The kid is beyond excited about this chance.”
Negron is the lone Belleville kid to qualify for the state championships.
Locally, only two wrestlers move on to this weekend’s state championships at Boardwalk Hall.
Lyndhurst’s Damian Weaver headed to Region 3 with an unblemished 26-0 record this season, but Weaver ran into a buzzsaw in the 150-pound finale, losing to Andrew Troczynski via a pin in 42 seconds.
Weaver will head to Atlantic City with a shot at redemption.
“I told him that he had to put that match in the rearview mirror as fast as he could,” said Scot Weaver, the Lyndhurst/North Arlington head coach who also happens to be Damian’s father. “He’s going to have a chance as good as anyone to stand on that podium (with the other medal winners among the top eight finishers). I think he has the right attitude.”
Kearny had a couple of wrestlers come close, but freshman Adam Ramadan finished sixth in the 106-pound weight class after winning 25 matches in his rookie campaign and senior Alex Amorim finished sixth in the 157-pound class.
“There are no easy matches at the regions,” said Kearny head coach Tony Carratura, Jr. “We expected our kids to do well. They made everyone proud.”
Ramadan has a great future, becoming the first Kearny freshman to advance to the region semifinals since state champion David Cordoba in 1999.
“He’s the best kid I’ve ever coached,” Carratura said of Ramadan. “I don’t have to tell him much. He does it all on his own. He acted like he had been there before. His determination and work ethic puts him in an elite class.”
Carratura said that Ramadan is also an honors student.
“I can’t say enough about the kid,” Carratura said. “He was one win away from AC. He’s got a very bright future.”
Carratura is sad that his season came to an end.
“We’re ready to for next year right now,” Carratura said. “It was a great season for us.”
But the season continues for Negron and Weaver, on to AC, looking to make dreams become reality.
Belleville’s Rocco Negron overcame a serious shoulder injury to finish fourth in the Region 3 tournament at the 132-pound weight class. Photo by Jim Hague
Belleville’s Rocco Negron (far right) stands on the podium after finishing fourth at the Region 3 tourney. Photo courtesy of Joe Pizzi
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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.”