By Larry Moko
The city of Windsor seems to be a good-luck charm for Bishop Ryan wrestling teams.
Although the OFSAA wrestling championships have been held at various sites across the province since debuting in 1961, the Bishop Ryan Celtics have enjoyed more than their share of success when the competition takes place in the Border City.
For example, under the guidance of former head coach Harry Mancini, Bishop Ryan captured its first boys’ team championship there in 1982. Then, with coach John Di Benedetto at the controls, the Celtics brought two more OFSAA boys’ titles home from Windsor to Hamilton in 1990 and 1994.
This year, the provincial high school showcase tournament in the sport was again hosted by Windsor. So what did BR do? It won its first-ever girls’ team championship. In addition, the overall title – combining boys and girls scores -- went to Bishop Ryan for the first time in the school’s history.
“Those were two big first-time accomplishments for us,” said Di Benedetto, currently the Celtics assistant coach. “Our boys’ team also came back with a team silver medal.”
Individually, Bishop Ryan was led by Ellise Daynes and Ligaya Stinellis, who won gold in the girls’ 67.5kg and 51kg divisions, respectively.
Silver went to BR’s Adriano Di Benedetto (boys’ 61kg).
Bronze-medal winners from Bishop Ryan were Francesco Fortino (boys’ 54kg) and Martin Wleh (67.5kg), Elinor Brown (girls’ 83kg) and Serena Di Benedetto (44kg).
Almost 800 athletes from 200 schools took part in this year’s mat action.
“We had a record 12 kids on the podium,” Di Benedetto said.
Also recognized during the award ceremonies were the following BR wrestlers: Evan Scott, fourth, boys’ 64kg; Joseph D’Alessandro, sixth, boys’ 51kg; Juhsena Redha, fifth, girls’ 41kg; Madison Caruso, fifth, girls’ 115kg; Celina Shamon, sixth, girls’ 115kg.
Stinellis earned gold for the second consecutive year – becoming the first BR female to ever accomplish the feat. But she said the happiest moment for her was grabbing the team championship banner.
“Winning something individually is one thing,” she said, “but having so many people around celebrating with you because they achieved the same thing is a whole other level of amazing.”
For Daynes, it was her first OFSAA gold. Last year she ended up in second place. In the finals, both Daynes and Stinellis dominated their opponents by a 10-point difference.
“Ellise was quite overwhelmed,” Di Benedetto said of her reaction to the win. “It was pretty emotional for her. She does a lot of training and there’s a big time commitment.”
Said Daynes: “I’ve been working really hard for the past couple of years. I’m really happy with how it worked out.”
Girls OFSAA wrestling events officially arrived on the scene in 2001. And, according to Di Benedetto, head coach Sheldon Francis deserves credit for Bishop Ryan’s success. Francis was not able to attend this week’s OFSAA tournament due to family commitments (the recent birth of his son). He did, however, manage to watch all the action from home and provide coaching instruction to the wrestlers by way of FaceTime video chat technology.
“It was like he was here,” Di Benedetto said. “Our girls’ wrestling program really got a jump when Sheldon came on board six years ago. This is the culmination of what he’s done.”
Daynes also praised Francis. “He’s like the rock of our girls’ team,” she said. “He gives up so much of his time to teach technique and encourage us to lift weights. So many girls are insecure about that. He works hard to build our confidence on the mat and off.”
The top boys’ finish came from Di Benedetto’s son, Adriano. He advanced to the final before losing to an opponent who took OFSAA gold for the fourth consecutive year in four different weight classes.
In the semifinals, Di Benedetto scored a 6-4 triumph over the second seed – someone he had lost to in their two previous meetings.
Coach Di Benedetto’s daughter, Serena, also excelled. As a Grade 9 student, she’s the youngest female wrestler from BR to ever win a medal.
“The opponents who placed ahead of her were both Grade 12 students,” Di Benedetto said. “They were in the provincial U-18 finals a month ago in Brampton.”
It should be noted that Bishop Ryan has captured team championships in other cities besides Windsor. Mancini’s Celtics took top boys’ honours in Milton (1983), Toronto (1985) and St. Catharines (1986).