The History of Bishop Ryan Wrestling
FROM THE BEGINNING
The Bishop Ryan High School Wrestling program was born in 1969 as it was the latest addition to the BR sports programs. Coach Harry Mancini won B.R.'s first City of Hamilton Championship in 1972. It did not take coach Mancini too long before he produced B.R.'s first Ontario High School (OFSAA) champion by way of a 90lb wrestler named Joe Sardo, who won the Gold medal in the 1975 OFSAA Wrestling Championships. This was only the beginning for the B.R. wrestling program as they began producing more OFSAA medallists with a Silver medal by heavy weight Kevin Henderson in 1976 and in 1977 B.R. had its second OFSAA Champion by Mike Marzucco in the 106lb class. The Bishop Ryan wrestling program took on another first in 1978 by producing its first Canadian Espoir Champion by way of Mike Marzucco in the 48kg class.
The B.R. program even though successful in producing individual champions still had not dominated as a team in the province but that was soon to change. In 1981 the B.R. Celtics savored its first taste of team dominance as it placed second at OFSAA and later that year a young Chris Woodcroft won his first Canadian title as a B.R. Celtic. Chris would go on in his career to become a two-time Olympian (1988 & 1992) and B.R.'s first graduate to achieve this level. The B.R. wrestling dynasty was emerging and in 1982 Bishop Ryan captured its first OFSAA Team Championship. The Celtic wrestling team went on to win the OFSAA Team Title four times and placed second three times from 1981 to 1987. The B.R. wrestling program had become the top high school wrestling program in Ontario and probably in Canada.
A TIME OF CHANGE
Coach Mancini left teaching in 1988 and with it his head coaching position of the B.R. wrestling program. The principal, not wanting to end the program at B.R., recruited a young wrestler and certified math/phys-ed teacher from the McMaster Wrestling program. John Di Benedetto, a product of both the B.R. Wrestling program (1978-82) and McMaster Wrestling program (1982-87), took over the B.R. team in February of 1988. With only four weeks with his newly adopted team, Coach Di Benedetto guided his wrestlers to a Bronze Team finish at the 1988 OFSAA Championships. At the 1989 OFSAA Championships, coach Di Benedetto brought B.R. their first ever Four-Time OFSAA Champion as Greg Woodcroft captured his fourth consecutive OFSAA Title and like his brother Chris, Greg went on to graduate to the McMaster Varsity Wrestling program and was our Canadian Olympic representative at the 52kg class at the '96 Olympics, taking over were his brother left off. It was thought that the likes of Greg Woodcroft would never again be seen on the B.R. wrestling team but that too would change.
With four OFSAA team titles during the Mancini regime coach Di Benedetto had big shoes to fill and in 1990 coach Di Benedetto, with the help of assistant coach Derm Tilley, captured B.R.'s fifth OFSAA Team Title. Again in 1994 B.R. won yet another OFSAA Team Title bringing the number to six. In 1995 and 1996 the Celtic squad took second place finishes both years at OFSAA bringing its record to Six Team Championships, Six Silver Team finishes and One Bronze Team finish since 1981. In 1996 B.R. wrestling produced its first FIVE-TIME OFSAA medallist from Fabio Coccia who won Two Gold medals and Three Silver medals during his interim with the Celtic program. During the next 2 years the Bishop Ryan team went through a rebuilding period and in 1998 the team was blessed with an outstanding rookie, Sheldon Francis, who has embraced the sport with such a passion that he may become the most accomplished BR wrestler ever. Going into the 2001- 2002 season Sheldon has to his credits a GOLD and Bronze OFSAA medal as well as 2 Canadian Championship titles and most recently won the Gold at the 2001 Canada Summer Games. There will be more to come..............
And more did come as Sheldon Francis finished a 5 year career at BR capturing his third consecutive OFSAA Gold at the 2003 OFSAA Championships in the 77kg class. He is BR's only wrestler to win 3 OFSAA Golds all in the same weight category and is arguably the most accomplished athlete ever to walk the halls of Bishop Ryan. Joining Sheldon on the top of the podium of the 2003 OFSAA Championships is an up and coming talent of James Garcia-Hennings who won the Gold in the 41kg class. James would go on and win Silver at both the 2004 and 2005 OFSAA Championships.
At the 2006 OFSAA Championships the BR squad took 3rd place with 5 athletes on the podium. At the 2007 OFSAA Championships the team once again placed 3rd bringing home 4 individual medals; a Gold, a Silver and 2 Bronze. The 2008 OFSAA Championship saw BR place 3rd for the third consecutive year with 3 Silver medals and one Bronze medal. In 2009 BR placed 4th as a team at the OFSAA Championships with a Gold and Silver medal. This marks the 24th time in Bishop Ryan's school history that the wrestling team has placed in the top 6 at OFSAA. In 2011 BR produced its second ever FIVE-TIME OFSAA medallist from Chris Garneau who won One Gold medal and Four Silver medals during his interim with the Celtic Wrestling Program. In 2012 BR had another first with Monica Wood becoming Bishop Ryan's first female wrestler to stand on the OFSAA podium as she placed 4th at the 47.5kg class.
In September of 2012 the BR Wrestling Program received a tremendous boost when we received the news that our own alumnus Sheldon Francis was to join the BR teaching staff and hence become BR's newest wrestling coach. Sheldon has come home to his wrestling roots and quickly took control of the BR team. In only his first season with the team, Sheldon has put BR wrestling back on the OFSAA Wrestling stage by placing 7 athletes on the podium at the 2013 OFSAA Wrestling Championships and leading the team to a Silver Medal Team finish. This marks the 18th time in Bishop Ryan's school history that the Wrestling team has placed in the top 3 at OFSAA.
THE DAWNING OF A NEW ERA
The 2013-2014 season saw tremendous changes as Bishop Ryan CSS moved to its third new location, a state of the art facility, which included a fully matted Wrestling Room. The BR wrestling program was given a big boost in the program with the construction of this wrestling room giving the opportunity to offer wrestling to the greater Hamilton area year round.
At the 2014 OFSAA Wrestling Championships, coach Francis brought back to BR the 19th OFSAA team medal in its school's history by way of a Bronze Team medal and two individual medals a Silver and a Gold from Anthony Italiano and Giordan Caruso respectively. The 2015 OFSAA Championships saw the Bishop Ryan team capture its 20th OFSAA boys team medal with a Silver Team performance and with the help of our girls team, BR Wrestling won its first ever Combined Team medal with a Silver Medal. The team also produced its most recent individual OFSAA Champion with Brad MaGarrey winning the GOLD becomming BR's 37th OFSAA Champion.
This brings us to present day as the Bishop Ryan Wrestling program celebrates its 47th Anniversary and has produced a total of 37 OFSAA Champions(an OFSAA record), 34 Silver Medalists, 24 Bronze Medalists,19 fourth place, 19 fifth place and 15 sixth place finishes, a total of 95 medals and 148 top 6 place finishes. The program continues to strive to introduce the sport of Freestyle Wrestling to young athletes in the hopes that some may experience the thrill of competing for Canada at the international level and hopefully the Olympics.