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Bergenfield honors wrestling legend Cascio
His lesson: 'The only people who fail are those who give up.

 Saturday, June 13, 2009
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Bergenfield renamed its wrestling room Friday for Sal Cascio, right, with his high school coach, Jess Jones. 
For 11 years he roamed that room at Bergenfield High School, yellow Whiffle ball bat in hand, taking kids he pulled out of the hallways and "out of pool halls" and turning them into some of the best wrestlers in Bergen County history.
"He commanded respect not because of what he said but because of how he presented himself," said Ed Kochakji, who won three State titles under Cascio. "People wanted to wrestle for Sal Cascio."
Friday, those wrestlers who grew up calling Cascio teacher, mentor and coach returned to honor the man they now call friend when the school named that wrestling room after Cascio.

 "Iím humbled," said Cascio, 77. "What can you say when you have something like that named after you."

"Itís going to be called the ĎSal Cascio Wrestling Room,í " said current wrestling coach Kevin Manning. "He was one of the guys who, wherever you went, you knew who he was. What Iím really happy about is that itís being done while heís still around to appreciate it."

Cascio, part of the inaugural wrestling team at Leonia under coach Jess Jones, started the Bergenfield program in 1959 when wrestling was in its infancy in Bergen County and coached until 1970. He coached the team to five straight district titles, four straight County titles, six league titles when Bergenfield wrestled in the NNJIL and, at one-point, 51 consecutive dual-meet wins.

"That was a tremendous accomplishment," Cascio said. "You go unbeaten for five years, everybody wants to take you down."

Cascio coached Kochakji to three and Bob Hurley to one State championship and in 1968 had seven wrestlers place in the State tournament at a time when only regional champions qualified.

"There were kids on those teams who could have placed in the State who couldnít get out of our room," said Kochakji, one of a host of Cascioís wrestlers who went into coaching. "My best memory of Sal is walking off the mat after the third championship [1968] and just hugging him because I knew it was over."

"Any coach will tell you that the most gratifying thing about coaching is seeing the kind of influence you can have on a kidís life after sports," said Cascio, who was elected to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2004.

Cascioís influence spread wide. In his final two years as the coach of the Bears, he had more than 130 wrestlers in his room.

"I donít know how good a coach I was," he said. "But I guess I was a pretty good recruiter. As a coach, you have to promote your sport."

"There were so many kids on the team that we had to practice in two groups," Kochakji said. "And he treated every one like a champ."

And Cascio remembers just about every one.

"When I give talks, I can talk about the championships and talk about Ed Kochakji and Bobby Hurley," Cascio said. "But itís hard. You donít want to remember them without remembering all of them. Thatís the backbone of a team."

But for the Bergenfield wrestling team in the 1960s, its heart was its coach.

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