In many schools, a wrestling team like the 1984-1985 Delaware Valley team would represent the all-time high.
These Terriers went 19-2, placed fourth by state, and won the Group 2 state championship. It’s even more impressive considering the team lost seven starters (and remember , there were then only 12 weights) compared to the previous year.
A whole team.
“The most important thing about 1985 was it was all about the team,” said Rob Godown, a 115-pound sophomore on Team 85 and a resident of Holland Township. .
1985, however, was actually an exciting sequel to 1984, when the Terriers, for the only time in their illustrious history, captured the No.1 team on the state standings.
Still, 1985 is remembered enough to be entered into the Terrier Athletic Hall of Fame at Thursday’s ceremony.
Indeed, Del Val’s wrestling will be omnipresent at this ceremony, as will Jeff Segreaves, the first State Champion of the Terriers (1975) and outstanding wrestler at the State meet; Brett Conly, one of the two (along with Jamie Wicks) two-time Terrier State Champions (1992 and 1993) and Ken Berger, the former Del Val whose voice is known the world over as a wrestling announcer.
Part of what makes the 1985 band so remarkable is that there weren’t any Segreaves or Conlys. The team only had one regional champion (Scott Tettemer, 122). But as a unit, they were almost unbeatable.
“These guys were my heroes,” said Andy Fitz, Del Val’s current head coach and Hall of Fame committee chair.
Andy’s father, Vince, trained the powers of the mid-80s, one of the highlights of his Hall of Fame career.
“I actually thought we had a better chance in 1983 to be # 1 in the state,” Vince Fitz said. “In 1984, we did it. Then in 1985 we lost seven starters. We didn’t have a state winner.
As Leigh Hall, the heavyweight in 1985, put it, “We lost all the star power from 1984 on. But we had a lot of hard-core kids who waited their time on the show.”
This is what Vince Fitz remembers so fondly.
“We had a couple of guys waiting their turn for a year of varsity wrestling,” he said. “They struggled for five or six years and had a year. We had a very strong team, no weak weights. Very balanced.
Godown remembers the intensity of the team.
“We were quite young; we had guys who were on the 1984 squad but were substitutes, ”he said. “Then they did so well in ’85. All these guys were a pretty low key, pretty calm group. But they were very serious about what they were doing.
Hall said expectations were different then.
“You gave Vince a year or two as a varsity wrestler and you were happy,” he said. “You were happy and your parents were happy. We lost so many children from 1984, we didn’t think of repeating as No.1. But we were there. We lost two close matches. It was a special team of uncompromising children. A bunch of go-ers.
As is often the case in such seasons, the losses stand out. Bad enough to lose at all, but look who the opponents were: 29-27 at Phillipsburg, 30-25 at North Hunterdon.
Ouch. Bad enough to lose, but losing to maybe two of the Terriers’ best rivals, maybe THE top two, even worse.
“They both hurt,” said Fitz, whose voice took on a certain harshness when the topic was brought up. “We reversed two of the losses to Phillipsburg in the Districts, but so be it.”
“P’burg was difficult to master, there is no doubt about it,” he said. “We divided the games, 6-6. We were there. It was a barn burner.
Hall, who was co-captain with compatriot Eric Jurgensen, also remembers.
“North Hunterdon was loaded,” he said. “It was the first season for (longtime coach) Dennis Haughey.”
The victories are also memorable – winning the Hunterdon Central tournament (the Red Devils and Terriers were in a doubles non-meeting phase; Hall said. “We would have beaten Central”); duels on Warren Hills, Voorhees, schools that were state powers at the time like Ridge and Pemberton, Caldwell, and the state final on Lenape Valley.
And everything was born and raised in a few rural townships and two small river towns.
“Vince was always coming to your grade school teams, your midget teams,” Godown said. “We had two youth programs, the Riegel Ridge Rams and Frenchtown, and we had great coaches. The clubs were big rivals and have always done well. Vince was all about the team – he used the kids in the doubles to gain experience and improve the team for the next year, and he wasn’t too worried about individual records.
It all feels like another world, almost, given today’s wrestling climate. Del Val as state # 1? A small public school?
Godown said: “You didn’t have to deal with the loss of children to other programs back then.”
“The first thing that jumps out at me (pretty much now compared to then),” said Fitz, who has remained active with De; l Val teams at all levels since retiring as head coach. in 1990 with a 284-60-3 record. and six group championships, “weren’t there any clubs. The head coach (of the high school) had a lot more control. We did a lot in the offseason, more than most if not everyone, training in local gyms and barns. We went to summer camps. For six years in a row we had more kids than anyone else in State Freestyle duels, and at the time you had to qualify.
There is a debate to be had as to whether maybe back then it was better than it is now, and maybe that debate should take place, but that is not the case here.
What is not for debate is the enduring legacy of this 1985 team. The ‘team first’ attitude exists in Del Val to this day – few regional teams (Phillipsburg would be one that stands out; Nazareth too) can come close to, let alone match, the Terriers’ team orientation.
And look at the love of the sport that the athletes have taken away. Godown coached local wrestling youth for many years until he followed his daughters to the football field. “We are still at all the wrestling matches! he said.
Hall, who lives in Phillipsburg, wrestled at college in Middlesex County (with Jurgensen again) and Montclair State, and was an assistant coach for 31 years in Hunterdon County – 16 at Central, seven at Voorhees and eight at Del Val, where he was one of the Group 2 champions of 99 with coach Paul Petro; “one of the highlights of my life,” he said.
Now Hall is resurrecting wrestling at South Hunterdon (where he teaches), which has been without a sport for 20 years.
These men love wrestling.
The legacy of Del Val’s 1985 wrestling team therefore goes beyond wins and losses. He touched the careers of hundreds of young athletes. It made the sport better. It made people better.
That’s all school sport should be.
“We were a small school, with a busy schedule,” Godown said. “We were fighting for our families, for our community. “
And for each other – that’s what the Del Val fight was back then, and it still is today.
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Brad Wilson can be reached at email@example.com.