As is often the case at Hall of Fame inductions, the recent New Jersey Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame banquet provided a range of emotions – from laughter and pride to poignant memories and a moment of silence.
The 19th annual affair, held at the Westin Hotel in Princeton, honored five recipients, announced prior to 37 current members introduced as they walked down a red carpet.
Ken Bernabe, himself a Hall of Fame member, again served as Master of Ceremonies. Frank Sica, in the background as the event’s organizer, deftly handled most everything but the chicken and salmon. Hall of Fame member Ron Brooks sang a passionate rendition of the National Anthem, prior to opening remarks by chapter president Gary Kessel. Ken Honig was the recipient of the chapter’s Outstanding Contributor award.
Chapter Hall of Fame member Howie O’Neil, Jr., gave the invocation, followed by an immediate moment of silence in memory of 2017 inductee Rick Iacono, a popular coach among his peers who succumbed to cancer this summer.
Among those recognized in the crowd of just under 350 were Rutgers coach Scott Goodale, the 2019 Dan Gable Coach of the Year, and NCAA champion Anthony Ashnault.
Honored posthumously were Dan Mahony and Bill Voliva. Mahony was a long-time wrestling official and also coached at the high school level. Voliva, an NCAA champion out of Indiana as well as an Olympian, coached for years at Rutgers University.
Also receiving a Lifetime Achievement award was Bob Shernce, former head coach for many years in Morris County and an active member of the NJ Chapter of the NWHOF. “In the end,’’ Shernce said, quoting Abe Lincoln, “it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.’’
Tony Caravella, former wrestler at Bloomsburg State and long-time coach at Brick Memorial High School, was experiencing his seventh Hall of Fame induction. Having told his wife that morning that the day was about him, he shared her reply with, “Why should today be any different?’’
Vinnie Russo, who has received numerous awards as a wrestling official, told several stories about his long career, refereeing matches like Phillipsburg-Paulsboro and throughout the state. One particular match brought a laugh, taking place at High Point. Positioning to eye a pin, a chicken suddenly flew over his head.
Yes, the day had a little bit of everything.
(Friend of Wrestling)