With Carucci at Helm, St. Mary Academy Wrestling Already Moving in Right Direction

By David Biggy | Dec 18, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy St. Mary Academy wrestling coach Mark Carucci instructs two of the youngsters in his program during a recent practice.

Stafford Township, NJ — When Bobby Green heard a wrestling program was coming to St. Mary Academy in Manahawkin this winter, he couldn’t wait to get started.

“I played basketball for All Saints last year just to keep busy,” said the sixth-grader from Little Egg Harbor. “My little brother’s friend is the coach’s son and they were talking about it, so I knew before the school year started we were going to have a team, and I was really excited about it. Wrestling’s my favorite sport.”

The young man who broke the news to the Green boys was Mark Carucci’s son, and it was true a wrestling program was in the works. Carucci, who grew up wrestling at St. Mary High School in Rutherford and had moved to Stafford Township from Toms River during recent years, was part of the St. Mary’s Parish transition board last year and made the recommendation to start the program.

“The idea was to promote the school, promote the Catholic faith and offer the school as a place with a good wrestling program,” said Carucci, who previously coached with Toms River Wrestling Club and Elite Wrestling, before working with Mat Warriors and now Stout School of Wrestling.

“Wrestling is big in this area, and I figured it would be good for the school to offer wrestling so we can show the families considering the school that we have this successful athletic program, and maybe it can boost enrollment. We want kids to come to St. Mary Academy, so if we have a successful wrestling program, that will bring us closer to what we want. This might be the only free, private wrestling program in the state.”

And Carucci has big plans for his program, so much so he invested tens of thousands of dollars into it – which included the purchase of a brand new wrestling mat, complete with the new SMA logo featuring its new mascot, the knight – and is donating his services as coach.

“I told Monsignor Ken (Tuzeneu) I’d donate everything,” Carucci said with a laugh. “He gave me his blessing, and we went with it. We want St. Mary kids to walk around with St. Mary gear and sweatshirts, running around all over local towns and promoting the brand, the school and the parish.”

But the goals are much broader in scope – and, of course, they’re heavily focused on wrestling success in competition.

“The No. 1 goal is commitment,” said Carucci, whose program right now has 22 youngsters, including a pair of females. “We want kids to commit to the program, to commit to learning wrestling. Winning doesn’t matter right now because nobody cares whether you won matches in fourth grade. But I would like to see us have eight kids succeed in some tournaments, and by next year double that number. The idea is to take developmental kids and turn them into real wrestlers. Right now, it’s about mastering basics and building on that foundation.”

However, Carucci is not interested in slacker types. His program, open to children in first through eighth grades from any of the five sending parishes – St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Whiting, St. Theresa in Little Egg Harbor, St. Pius X in Lacey, St. Francis of Assisi in Brant Beach and St. Mary, which serves Barnegat and Manahawkin – as well as St. Mary CCD students, is for boys and girls who want to work hard and become better individuals, not just higher-level wrestlers.

“We teach discipline, winning off the mat first,” he said. “If you can win off the mat, you can win on the mat.”

Carucci described winning off the mat as developing a lifestyle that includes a youngster making his bed in the morning, thanking her parents for doing things to help her, doing his homework after coming home from school and eating before wrestling practice, showering within an hour after returning home from practice, getting to bed on time, and showing respect to elders. Additionally, Carucci wants leaders.

“You need to be a leader to single-handedly win on a wrestling mat,” he said. “You have to lead by example. You have to put in the time and work hard. And we don’t use wrestling off the mat for any reason. We don’t use it for bullying tactics or anything like that. Our kids are held to a high standard. We teach them to be men, how to be women, how to be responsible for what they do. We talk about it every day, either before or after practice.”

Right now, Carucci says 30 to 35 wrestlers would be ideal for next season, in time building to as many as 50 wrestlers and comprised of two full squads – an “A” team and a “B” team that compete in the Ocean County league at the middle school level. He said for this season he expects several wrestlers to compete in a few tournaments locally, including a state qualifier in Toms River later in January.

“He’s a very good coach. He’s hard on you, but I really like that,” said Amilianna Roach, a 10-year-old from Barnegat and one of the two girls in the program this winter. “I wrestled at Barnegat Rec last year, but I saw a sign for St. Mary wrestling by my school and told my mom I wanted to join. It’s fun because if you know a move and do it pretty good, he teaches you to do it better.”

Green is excited to see where the program goes from here.

“We’re learning new things all the time,” he said. “Coach Carucci teaches us a lot of little things that may seem like small details, but they will make a big difference when we’re on the mat, and I really like that about him. He’s tough and works us hard, but we learn a lot. I can’t wait to start wrestling in matches.”

Carucci said the program still has openings for children who want to be part of it now. Anybody interested may contact St. Mary Academy at 609-597-3800 or email sma@stmaryknights.org.

— David Biggy


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