Middle School Team Big Plus For NHS Wrestling Program

Ken Hamwey Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
February, 2019
Article Body: 

Twelve Sectional championships and two State titles put Natick High’s wrestling program in an elite category. It’s about to get even better.
Two coaches — Joe Guidice and Nick DiAntonio — are directing the Redhawks’ Middle School wrestling team, and because of their leadership and direction, a dynamic feeder system is in place and its participants are not only prepared, but also well-versed in the sport’s basics by the time they reach the jayvee and varsity levels at the high school.
“The goals of the Middle School program are to teach the fundamentals of wrestling and to develop a passion for the sport,’’ Guidice and DiAntonio said. “We want to help the boys be proficient in technique so they’ll be ready to compete as freshmen. Winning matches is important but before that happens, it’s a must for our kids to develop a love for the sport.’’
Middle School wrestling is for boys in Grades 6-8. Competitors from the Kennedy and Wilson schools practice at the high school and also battle their scheduled opponents at NHS. Natick’s Middle School team competes in the Bay State Conference (about 10 meets) and it also vies for post-season honors at Sectional, State and New England tournaments.
Wrestling for boys in Grades 6-8 previously existed as part of Natick’s Recreation Department program for youths. But, as Guidice says: “Recruiting wrestlers isn’t easy, but with help from Bob Anniballi (varsity coach) and Tim Collins (Natick’s athletic director), we were able to start a formal Middle School program.’’
Guidice has been coaching at the Middle School level for six years and DiAntonio is in his fifth season with the program. Last year was a classic example of how it’s progressed. The Middle School squad won the Sectional Tournament, finishing first in a 30-team field. At the State playoffs, Natick managed a third-place finish from a pool that included 60 schools. So far, the program has won two BSC championships in its five-year history.
“I firmly believe that Bob’s varsity and jayvee squads are just starting to reap the benefits of the Middle School program,’’ Guidice emphasized. “There are five boys who went through our program and now are competing as freshmen at the high school.’’ The five are Jake Adellman, Sammy Pappadopoulus, Alex Giberson, Colin Daly and David Seiche.
Guidice and DiAntonio are no strangers to wrestling. Both wrestled in high school and both were on all-star teams. DiAntonio, who wrestled at Milford High, was a State champion at 171 pounds and still holds the Scarlet Hawks’ record for most wins in a career (142).
While DiAntonio gives Guidice the bulk of the credit for providing high-quality instruction, Guidice is quick to laud DiAntonio’s work on the administrative end.
“Nick is so organized and meticulous in managing the program,’’ Guidice said. “He handles the scheduling, the ordering of equipment and uniforms and does all the necessary communication with parents. He’s also terrific in helping the kids to correctly learn the sport’s techniques.’’
Both coaches adhere to a no-cut policy — anyone who reports is eligible for a roster spot. Currently, the team has 50 competitors. Fifteen boys are on what’s called “the competition team’’ and the other 35 are on the equivalent of a jayvee team.
“The 15 compete in matches in the different weight classes and the other 35 wrestle in scrimmage matches,’’ the coaches said. “But, at any time, a boy can displace someone who’s in the group of 15 by competing in a wrestle-off. Whoever wins will get to wrestle against our next opponent.’’
Both Guidice and DiAntonio concur about the attributes they admire in wrestlers when they’re assembling a lineup or adding to their roster. “We want hard-working kids who are mentally tough and resilient,’’ they noted. “Being quick and agile is important, too, and they must be coachable.’’
Anniballi works closely with the two coaches, giving them the freedom they need. But, they, in turn, reinforce and promote the system and the high percentage moves he prefers. “Wrestling is a sport that demands lots of hard work and being focused on basics,’’ Guidice and DiAntonio emphasized. “It produces the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. If you win, it’s all about your effort. But if you lose, there’s no one else to blame. It’s all on one competitor.’’
Anniballi is very pleased with the way both coaches deal with middle-school youths and how dedicated they are to the program. “Nick and Joe are not only terrific coaches, but they’re also both outstanding teachers and role models for our middle-school wrestlers,’’ he emphasized.
The coaches listed a half dozen eighth-graders who have surfaced as top-notch competitors on the team. They include Tucker Vician, Matteo Mariano, Louis Linton, Michael Anniballi, Brendan MacDonnell and Shaun McLaughlin. “They’re athletic, know technique and work hard in the off-season,’’ Guidice and DiAntonio noted. “Their work ethic is strong and they emulate what Natick High’s system is all about.’’
Both coaches agree that the Middle School team has a chance to win a Bay State Conference title and a Sectional crown. At Local Town Pages deadline, the squad was 6-1 and was successful in a pair of tournaments. It placed third in the Newtown, Conn., Tournament and was second at the Natick Redhawk Middle School Junior Duals. The sectionals are set for Feb. 3. “Our goals are realistic and, if we win the Sectional, then we’ll work hard at the State tourney,’’ they said.
Guidice and DiAntonio are acutely aware that coaching boys in the 10-13 year-old category is a bit different than coaching at the varsity level. They fully understand their mission. “If boys are on the competition team, then we coach them to win,’’ they noted. “If our overall coaching approach is done correctly, then the boys will improve daily and they’ll enjoy the experience of being part of the team.’’
Joe Guidice and Nick DiAntonio, who both teach at Natick High, are young fathers with young children. At some point they’ll likely be involved with helping their children gain confidence in whatever they’re facing. Both coaches emphasize that their greatest enjoyment in coaching at the Middle School level is seeing youths develop confidence.
“It’s a pleasure to see kids with little confidence grow in that area,’’ they said. “To see kids gain confidence and self-esteem, then progress to high school wrestling is what’s most enjoyable.’’
Joe Guidice and Nick DiAntonio are at the right place at the right time and the life lessons they’re emphasizing can only be a major plus for the youths they’re influencing.