Wrestling program gaining foothold at Middletown

Numbers are up, as are expectations, for Middies

MIDDLETOWN — Jacob Castillo has seen a noticeable difference within the Middletown High School wrestling program.

The senior said he isn’t just enjoying his final prep season on the mats. He’s dominating on the mats, too.

“We’ve come a long way since I was a freshman,” said Castillo, who secured his 100th win of his high school career over the weekend and is 10-0 at the 144-pound weight class.

“It’s enjoyable. I’m enjoying it. Everyone is enjoying it,” Castillo added. “It doesn’t feel like a job like in the past. We’re all setting goals, and that’s what I like about it. I can actually say it’s fun.”

Middies coach Joe Campolongo joined the helm two years ago after a seven-year tenure at Oak Hills. He also hit the century mark in victories on Saturday by earning his 100th career dual win as a high school coach.

Campolongo said accolades aren’t the most impressive statistic for the grapplers in purple. But rather it’s how many bodies have been added to the Middletown roster within a short span of him taking over.

“The biggest thing for us is building numbers,” said Campolongo, who noted that he’s the 18th head coach in program history. “I took over the coaching duties with a dozen or so wrestlers here.”

Campolongo said there are currently 50 participating at the high school level with close to 30 at the middle school.

“It kind of blows my mind to be honest with you,” Campolongo said. “Wrestling all in itself historically has struggled in numbers. Covid did a lot of damage given the nature of our sport.

“There’s been a lot of recruiting,” Campolongo added. “We’re just trying to build a competitive room and give kids an opportunity to do something — and at the same time push for some good competition and see how far we can take some of them.”

Middletown football coach Don Simpson also wants to see how far they can go.

“I think one of the best things that has happened is my office being right next to Coach Camp’s office,” Simpson said.

Added Campolongo, “I’ve never seen it before. But he’s literally grabbing kids and pulling them aside and asking them why they’re not wrestling. He’s pulling them into my office.”

Campolongo, without question, attributed the increase in numbers to the immense amount of football players participating this winter.

“That relationship right there is easily why we’ve got so many more wrestlers,” he said.

“We would sit there and talk and I asked him what his expectations were,” Simpson chimed in. “I asked him if it was a myth that wrestlers needed to cut out weight. Because we don’t want you to lose weight on the football team.

“Coach Camp said, ‘No,’” Simpson added.

Now Simpson nearly has his entire offensive and defensive lines, as well as his linebackers, on the mat.

“It truly is mind-boggling,” said Campolongo, who noted that his squad went 8-8 his first season and expects his program to be more competitive down the road. “You’ve got guys like all-linebacker Ronan Casanova and others here. That says a lot with where we’re heading. I think a lot of kids want to be a part of this now.”

Campolongo said he’s always been a history buff, and he also wants his wrestlers to be a part of Middies history.

“We need to find the next Scott Pergram,” Campolongo said of Middletown’s lone individual state wrestling champion (1988).

“The kids know his name,” Campolongo added. “We’re pounding his name into their head. They know exactly who he is.

“So right now, we’re not going anywhere, and we’re not settling for the bottom half of the Greater Miami Conference — if you get what I’m saying. We’re trying to chase a GMC title and a sectional title as a team. We’re going to be right here to stay.”

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