Kosko on Caiazza: Much more than just a high school wrestling coachBy NICK KOSKO
(Editor’s note: Nick Kosko wrestled for coach Mike Caiazza at Egg Harbor Township High School before graduating in 2014.)
It’s tough to describe Mike Caiazza in just a few words. A head coach of Egg Harbor Township wrestling for 30 years, Caiazza has left a lasting legacy on everyone he has coached, from early guys such as Dennis Lamond to just this past season in senior Connor Agostino.
There are many to name, such as Agostino’s older brother Zach, Joe Rocks, Gabe Zamot, Jason Cohen, Jimmy Garrett, Eric Wollermann, Terrell Coleman, James Ingersoll, and, well, I could go on and on and on. Just look at the champions board in the EHT wrestling room.
None of those wrestlers could have achieved the success they did without Caiazza.
Caiazza was my coach as well. Yes, this very writer was a wrestler at Egg Harbor Township just a few short years ago.
I was never flashy, nor was I particularly great at this craft, but I worked my tail off because I had Caiazza in my corner and yelling in my ear to push myself to get better.
I did mention that it is nearly impossible to describe what Caiazza means to so many wrestlers, including myself. However, I will at least try to paint a picture of what it was like being coached by what should be a New Jersey Wrestling Hall of Fame career.
Back when I was a senior in high school, we were practicing not long after a loss, and when I tell you that particular practice was rough and sloppy, I mean it.
It seemed like no one wanted to be there and then, all of a sudden, Caiazza stops practice and tells everyone in the room to go home. Everyone stopped and, naturally, the team and myself were extremely stunned. Was he serious? Was he really telling the entire team to go home just 40 minutes into a practice?
Caiazza certainly reiterated that he was serious as he proceeded to turn off the lights in the room and walk out the door. Meanwhile, we were all still standing there, looking around, waiting for him to come back.
Oh, he did come back. Caiazza had his sweatshirt and sneakers on and once again told us to go home, wrestling room still darkened and all. He left again.
So we stayed there.
I looked at my fellow seniors and we didn’t say a word. We all just nodded and mutually agreed to resume practicing. Everyone suddenly had this extra fire and we started drilling harder. Guys were getting after it, lights still off, and we were actually having a good practice.
So what happened next?
Caiazza walked back through the door, turned the lights back on, and told us to take a break. Then we started going over different pinning combinations to prepare for our next match. Basically, it was as if the walkout did not even occur.
Oh yeah — we came out and dominated our dual meet the next day.
You might be thinking, this is a weird story to talk about when trying depict one of South Jersey’s greatest coaches. Not to me.
Any other coach might have seriously left, and so would the wrestlers.
Well, we kind of knew Caiazza was not really going to leave, but we knew we were not leaving, either. When your coach never gives up on you, you never give up on your coach.
Caiazza meant something to all of his wrestlers, including myself. There may be a thousand different stories, but everyone agrees on one thing: there was never a better coach to help turn boys into men, maturing before his very eyes. He instilled toughness unlike any other in each of his wrestlers.
Look no further than this season’s accomplishments. All of the senior Eagles wrestlers were freshmen when I was still at the top of the food chain as a senior wrestler.
I saw them grow as a team as Caiazza molded them into arguably the best squad in school history. It was capped off with the school’s first district team title in school history as they dominated District 30 in February.
A school-record five district champions and 12 region qualifiers, with three of them getting to states, including Agostino, Coleman and Paul Valian. Yeah, that was an impressive way to go out. Caiazza also won District 30 and Region 8 Coach of the Year awards for the second consecutive season. But he didn’t just save his best for last, he showed his best throughout every season, every match and every practice.
So how do we remember Caiazza’s career? Great teacher, great coach and a great human being. How about a statue outside the athletic complex? I am pretty sure no one would mind.
On behalf of every coach, every wrestler and parent, I want to say thank you to one person who helped mold me as an athlete and a human being.
Happy retirement coach, you certainly have earned it.
Follow Nick Kosko on Twitter @nickkosko59