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Wrestling Takes Center at Island Trees High School

ITHS alums inducted into Hall of Fame

The Wantagh Warriors, ranked by the New York State Sportswriters Association (NYSSWA) as one of the top two wrestling squads in the state, took first place with 374 points Jan. 7 in the Ted Peterson Tournament at Island Trees Middle School.

Wantagh’s victory put the exclamation point on a memorable wrestling-filled weekend in the Island Trees School District, which included a Hall of Fame ceremony on Friday, Jan 6 in the high school gymnasium and a 10-hour-long, 12-squad, three-mat tournament at the middle school on Saturday.

Besides the first-place Wantagh Warriors, the participating wrestling teams were the Baldwin Bruins, Bethpage Golden Eagles, Farmingdale Dalers, Freeport Red Devils, Hempstead Tigers, Huntington Blue Devils, Island Trees Bulldogs, Massapequa Chiefs, Mepham Pirates, Plainedge Red Devils, and Uniondale Knights. Plainedge, which took second place overall with 166 points, proved to be a formidable squad, as their 170-pound phenom Dan Spurgeon defeated Wantagh’s Chris Loew to earn himself the award for Most Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament.

As for the Bulldogs, 113-pounder Tom Mignone was recognized for hitting the 100-win mark in his career and they placed fifth overall in the tournament with 138 points. Island Trees won 12 of 15 weight classes, including wins by pin from Chris Donnelly (99 lbs), Joe Piscopio (126 lbs), Mike Vera (145 lbs), Lucas Panebianco (152 lbs), Brandon Cassar (170 lbs), and Anthony Barletta (195 lbs).

Island Trees High School hosted its annual alumni varsity match and representatives from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame were on hand to honor three Island Trees Hall of Famers for their contributions to the sport of wrestling. Former Island Trees wrestling coach Ted Petersen, and Bulldogs wrestling alums Gary Ventimiglia and David Pottruck, were recognized by the committee in an elaborate plaque presentation and ceremony.

Petersen, a wrestling coach at Island Trees for 27 years, produced 28 Nassau County champion athletes and six New York State champs in his time at the helm of the Bulldogs. Under Petersen’s watch, the Bulldogs wrestling team tallied 325 wins, with just 70 losses and four ties from the early 1960s until the mid-80s. He passed away in 1989 at the age of 55 after a battle with ALS.

As for Ventimiglia, his stellar wrestling career at Island Trees included a second place finish at the New York State Championships in 1968. But he never forgot his Island Trees roots even after becoming a Pennsylvania State College wrestling champion in the early 1970s, as he returned home to coach the Bulldogs’ wrestling team side-by-side with Petersen, helping to continue the school’s rich wrestling tradition. Ventimiglia’s untimely death at age 42 came as a shock to the Island Trees community, but his legacy lives on stronger than ever.

David Pottruck, the third Bulldogs’ wrestling honoree recognized by National Wrestling Hall of Fame representatives over the weekend, was a standout athlete at Island Trees in the mid-1960s. He graduated from Island Trees in 1966 and was inducted into the Island Trees Sports Hall of Fame in 1997 for his superior efforts on the wrestling mats during his high school career.

The Island Trees Bulldogs varsity wrestling team travels to Valley Stream North on Jan. 18 for a match against the Nassau Section 8 rival Spartans.