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Wrestler with Down syndrome gets emotional win

Wrestler with Down syndrome gets emotional win:

  • What Dan Richards wants to make clear is that his son had been wrestling for three years without incident.
  • The week was nothing short of an emotional roller-coaster for Dan Richards.
  • So Richards took to social media to express his disappointment with how things were handled.
  • For Richards, who lives with Down Syndrome, it was as if he’d just won a state championship when he pinned Middletown North freshman Richie Wall in an exhibition match.
  • David Richard wrestles for Brick Memorial High School in New Jersey.

David Richard wrestles for Brick Memorial High School in New Jersey.

(Photo: Brian Johnston, Asbury Park (N.J.) Press)


@10NewsWTSP: Wrestler with Down syndrome gets emotional win:

MIDDLETOWN, New Jersey — As David Richards made his way off the mat at Middletown North into the waiting arms of his Brick Memorial teammates, poignant doesn’t begin to describe a moment overflowing with emotion and compassion, making clear the impact athletics can have on young lives.

The fact that they had just lost a tough, closely contested match was secondary to the specially arranged bout that had just concluded, as Richards, a senior with special needs who has competed with the Mustangs’ junior varsity the past three years, found himself taking center stage after the completion of the varsity match.

For Richards, who lives with Down Syndrome, it was as if he’d just won a state championship when he pinned Middletown North freshman Richie Wall in an exhibition match. His parents, Dan and Josephine, stood nearby, overtaken by the jubilation in their son’s celebration, and the reactions of the fans the packed grandstand.

“This is a dream come true for him, to be running around with the varsity guys,’’ Dan Richards said.

Richards and Wall had wrestled each other on Tuesday in a JV event at Red Bank, and Wall, who won the previous meeting, embraced the opportunity to wrestle again. This time, after the two rolled around on the mat in the first period, with Richards lifting and slamming Wall to the mat at one point before Richards won with a pin.

“When I found out we were wrestling Brick Memorial on Saturday, I was like, ‘Great, I get to see Dave again,’ ” said Wall, who exhibited tremendous character on the mat.

“I feel like every single kid should have a chance to succeed and do good. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about winning a trophy. It’s about inclusion and making his day better.”

Amazing stuff. Wall gets it. Brick Memorial coach Mike Kiley and his coaching staff — particularly Tim Brennan, who got Richards involved in the wrestling program when he got to the high school — they get it. As does Middletown North coach Matt Sirchio, who went out of his way to make sure Saturday’s match happened.

But what transpired on Saturday was also a teachable moment because things don’t always go right in these situations.

The week was nothing short of an emotional roller-coaster for Dan Richards.

The Asbury Park Press was in the Brick Memorial wrestling room Tuesday, working on a video feature about his son and the challenges he has overcome. The Press planned to return Wednesday, but his scheduled bout in a junior varsity match at Brick was canceled when no Green Dragon wrestler took the mat.

For the father, it was an example of what his son has faced at points throughout his life.

“That was the very first time I was there personally to witness something like that,” Dan Richards said. “There have probably been times when he was discriminated against or talked down to that I wasn’t there for, and he may not have really understood because he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. So for me personally, to be there like that and it’s right in front of my face and it’s my son, the emotions were — I don’t know how to explain it.

“It hurts.”

How could it not hurt Richards and his wife, Josephine? So Richards took to social media to express his disappointment with how things were handled.

And while what happened Wednesday can never be undone, the hope is it can be used to educate everyone about how some things are more important than winning or losing.

“I think what should have happened is we should have put a wrestler on the mat and wrestled,” Brick superintendent Tom Gialanella said. “The coach (Brick’s Matt Opacity), knowing there was going to be a video taken, for some reason asked the students that were eligible to wrestle if they wanted to wrestle, and for some reason, the students said no, and the coach allowed that to happen.

“It was a mistake, but it’s a great learning lesson. I asked the coach this: ‘Do you usually ask your kids and give them a choice if they want to wrestle or not? And the answer was no. So why did you do it here? There’s no good answer.”

Which is why that one, specially arranged exhibition Saturday — after the Mustangs’ varsity team absorbed a tough 32-29 loss — was so important.

What Dan Richards wants to make clear is that his son had been wrestling for three years without incident. And that for the most part, his son’s experiences in the Brick school system have been positive.

And while what happened Saturday morning showed just how far we’ve come, what happened Wednesday night highlights just how far we still have to go.

“This is how it’s supposed to be,” Dan Richards said Saturday.

Anyone who witnessed it truly understood the meaning of things like courage and sportsmanship.

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Wrestler with Down syndrome gets emotional win

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