Family Edition: Wrestling roots run deep for Egg Harbor Township familiesBy DAVE O’SULLIVAN
There’s a non-descript warehouse in the back of a building off Fire Road in Egg Harbor Township where the next generation of outstanding EHT wrestlers is being cultivated. The Orchard South Wrestling Club isn’t flashy — just a wrestling mat, a small desk, a couple of chairs and a bathroom. But that’s OK, because young men, and even young boys and girls, go there to work, sweat and grind.
The club is run by former EHT standout wrestlers Jimmy Garrett and Robert “Pee Wee” Oglesby, Jimmy’s cousin. If those names sound familiar, they should. Garrett finished fourth in the state during his senior year in 2005 and won more than 100 matches in his Eagles career. He was a volunteer assistant with the high school program this season, and watched as his cousin, senior Terrell Coleman, lead the Eagles to a Cape-Atlantic League team championship and advanced to the individual state tournament for the second straight year.
Wrestling roots run deep in Egg Harbor Township, particularly for families such as the Garretts, Colemans, Oglesbys, Woods, Whites and Easons. They are all related in one way or another, and these families have been supplying coach Mike Caiazza with a steady stream of outstanding wrestlers for nearly two decades now.
“It’s amazing, and I’m proud to be a part of it. I’m proud to be one of the pioneers of all this. There weren’t too many people before in our family who wrestled — Leon White’s dad was one of the only ones. Everybody else’s dad played football, basketball, baseball, the traditional sports. We just kind of ventured in a different direction, but it worked out for us,” Garrett said. “It’s starting all over again now, we’re not going anywhere. The best part about having the younger kids around is that I have the pleasure of teaching them from the bottom up. What I instill in them are the same things I instill in my high school guys. We’re not teaching them average little kid moves — we want them to excel. And you can excel at a higher rate and a faster rate if you are taught the right way. The things I teach work at all levels. With a little bit of work and a little bit of time, you get a good product. These little guys are so focused because they see what’s before them. They see all the greatness that has been around them, and they want to be better. That’s the beauty of it.”
“The whole family has been wrestlers, so I didn’t really have a choice but to wrestle,” Terrell added. “I’m just ready for the next generation to do what I did.”
“Watching Jimmy, Jerile, Leon and Kirk, and then for my boys to get involved, it’s been nice. Those guys paved the path and my boys followed them up,” said Bill Coleman Sr., Terrell’s dad.
Terrell’s mom, Doris, is an Eason and she married Bill Coleman Sr. Together, they have four children, Bill Jr., 24, Ajanae, 21, Janece, 19, and 17-year-old Terrell. Garrett’s mom, Sharon, is Doris Coleman’s aunt, and Jimmy’s brother is Jerile, now 27. Mark Woods, a teammate of Terrell’s this year for the EHT wrestling team, his father, Mark Sr., is cousins with Doris. Pee Wee is Jimmy’s cousin, as is Kirk Eason, another former EHT wrestler who graduated in 2002. Leon White is a first cousin of Jimmy and Jerile, and he’s a 2009 St. Augustine Prep graduate. Confused yet?
But that’s the thing about wrestling, it’s kind of like one big family. It’s a cult, really, and many times all it takes is one kid getting interested in the sport to set off a family tradition that can last decades.
“That’s one thing I like about wrestling. Everybody knows everybody, and it feels like everyone is family,” Doris Coleman said. “I’m going to miss (EHT). Caiazza has been a great coach, and with Jimmy coming in and helping out this year, it’s been a great year.”
It was hard to miss the Coleman entourage at wrestling meets the past four years. Billy Jr. and Terrell’s sisters were at nearly every meet, as were Terrell’s nephews, William Coleman III (4 years old) and 6-month-old Yahsir. Little Billy III and Amar, the 5-year-old son of Ajanae, could be seen in little black T-shirts with “Coleman” on the back. The whole family got behind the late postseasons runs of guys such as Terrell and teammates Connor Agostino and Hunter Thomas. Terrell was one of the favorites to win a region title at 120 pounds, and most likely would have placed at states had it not been for a debilitating sickness that struck him a few days before regions and sapped his strength and energy. Despite getting pinned in the region semifinals, he managed to wrestle his way back to take fourth and advance to states.
He suffered a first-round loss at states to Edison Echevarria of Delsea Regional, but then won a match to stay alive before a couple of losses in wrestlebacks ended his high school career.
“Terrell turned into my twin this year in certain aspects. It was exciting. When you put a certain amount of work into a kid and you know what the product can be, then it’s just a matter of him going out there and making the product a reality,” Jimmy said. “Had he not gotten sick, we would be talking about much bigger things. I think he would have placed (at states). I really believe that. He was that on point. He had the right mindset, and if his body was right he definitely would have placed.”
“Overall, my career was pretty good,” Terrell said. “It feels good that my family was there every match supporting me.”
Bill Sr. and Doris Coleman said the past four years have been exciting, watching their son grow from a shy 14-year-old freshman to become one of the best wrestlers in the state.
“It’s exciting. To see him go from being so small to now a senior ready to go off to college, all the years, it’s just really exciting. I believed in him. Even when he was little, I believed he would end up where he is today,” Bill Sr. said. “It was a great season. It was great to see so many of them get to the next level. And beating St. Augustine Prep (to win the CAL) this year was really huge for the team.”
“It’s exciting, but I would get really nervous when it was time for him to wrestle. It’s been a lot of fun. I’m going to miss it. Right now, the younger ones are starting to wrestle. That’s one thing, Terrell and Billy have to be role models. The little ones watch every move that they make,” Doris said. “Billy wrestled when he was younger, and Terrell has done it from 5 years old until high school, he never stopped. They both were really competitive. It’s not over. It’s over for Terrell, but with the grandkids coming in — and next year we’ll continue to go to EHT matches because we love the sport.”
Jimmy continues to work with Terrell at Orchard South to help get him ready for a potential college wrestling career, and he’s also got a bunch of 5-year-olds in the room as well, trying to cultivate the next generation of Eagles.
“It starts from the bottom. You have to get a good feeder program going with kids who are competing in the right manner and are getting good competition in middle school,” Jimmy said. “You have to start with the little guys, and keep feeding it all the way through high school so that there’s no learning curve when these kids get to high school.”
Bill Sr. said he loves what wrestling has brought to his family, and the lessons the sport teaches over time.
“Wrestling has played a huge role in their lives,” he said. “Being able to control your weight, being disciplined — it’s one-on-one out there, and those are life-changing experiences that they are going to take forward with them.”
Doris said she’s still trying to come to grips with the fact that her youngest son is just a few months away from graduating from high school. It wasn’t that long ago that Terrell was one of those 5-year-old boys, trying to copy the wrestling moves of his older brother and cousins.
“We have pictures of Terrell, Hunter Thomas and Alex Pruszinski of Lower Cape May from the tot wrestling, and now they are all seniors,” she said. “When I look at pictures, I think, ‘wow, where did the time go?’”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays