Wrestling in Maplewood and South Orange began in 1958-59, with the advent of a club for high schoolers. The following year, the club spawned a full-fledged varsity team at Columbia High School. To support and grow the varsity team, new CHS Coach Don Griesel started a youth clinic on Saturdays in 1962 that through the years evolved into our current MSO Cougar Youth Wrestling Club.
The predecessor to our club, the Maplewood-South Orange Youth Wrestling Club, was founded in 1972 by Hal Garwin. Hal served as head coach and president until 1986, greatly expanding the youth program as the popularity of the sport grew in the area. Many of his youth teams were considered some of the strongest in the Essex County Junior League (predecessor to our current Suburban Junior Wrestling League), winning a number of league and tournament championships. His wrestlers continued on to compete at the high school level under the leadership of Coach Al Hector (1964-1985) during a period of great success, when the high school team won several county championships and individual wrestlers won county, regional and state championships. Over the next three decades, the CHS team continued to flourish under Head Coaches: (1) Len Capari (1985-1991), whose 1988-89 team won the county & section championships and whose 1991 team won the district championships, (2) Dave Brothers (1995-2006), and then (3) Hal Garwin himself (2006-2017). Starting with the 2017-18 season, Coach Mike Freedman took over the helm at CHS and is working to return high school wrestling to peak form in Maplewood-South Orange.
Coach Freedman is assisted in this goal by John Gigante, who currently runs the youth program (starting 2015-16). A former D1 collegiate wrestler, Coach John began to assist when his son joined the club during the 2013-14 season. He mentored for two seasons under Coach Jeremiah Fleming, who selflessly ran the club for nearly a decade (2006-2015) despite having none of his own children in the program. A former CHS standout (and member of the Rutgers University Wrestling Team), Coach Fleming was assisted by Ben Solomon, Dave Willner, Frank Tianga, and Mike Martins.
Recent club leaders follow in the footsteps of other former CHS and local wrestlers who ran the club or assisted over the previous two decades, including:
1986-1991: Marc Small, Ed Deehan, Tom Foti, Marc Vicari & Ed Nugent
1990-2007: Chris DeFilippis, Kim Kershaw, Chris Iantosca & Andy Small
As with any successful enterprise, many others contributed off the mat over the years, including Al Bianchi, Pete Zimmerman, Joe Barry, Mike Fonte, Jerry Auriemma, Diana Adams, and Valerie Jackson.
Our club today is stronger than ever, with enrollment up to approximately 80 wrestlers, a dedicated coaching staff of 10, and a booster group of enthusiastic parents.