By Betsy Veysman
Joe Amuso will be on the floor of the Times Union Center in Albany during the New York State Championships next year after all.
The coach, who retired this spring from his head coaching job at Fox Lane High School after 41 years, was planning to attend the tournament to watch some of his former wrestlers from the stands.
However, he will be called out to the mat area prior to the finals to receive the New York State Coach of the Year Award, an accomplishment that was announced by the National Wrestling Coaches Association earlier this week.
“It is truly an honor,” said Amuso, who registered 406 dual meet wins. “I had no idea it was coming. Like most coaches, I wasn’t in it for personal goals. I just went to work, did my job and hoped for the best for our team.”
His squads boasted many achievements. Over 230 All-League and 125 All-Section performances. More than 20 All-State wrestlers and 35 Section 1 winners. A state championship for Steven Rodrigues in 2011 and three medalists (Sam Speno, Matt Pasqualini, Dan Ventura) in 2012.
But more than the individual successes, Amuso fondly remembers his team’s effort this February to win its fourth Section 1 title in five years.
“That tournament certainly stands out for me,” he said. “We were behind going into the last session. We had four kids in the finals and they all had to win their matches for our team to win the title. They [Speno, Pasqualini, Ventura and Tom Grippi] accomplished that. But it wasn’t just the kids in the finals – our entire team did an outstanding job, contributing important points in the tournament. It was a very satisfying last championship.”
“Satisfying” is a word he used several times to describe his experience at the helm of the program.
“What’s been most enjoyable and satisfying for me is seeing the kids improve over the course of the years on the team,” he said. “There’s a lot of satisfaction of seeing them attain their goals, whether it be to win a section championship or just improve an aspect of their wrestling. It’s been a pleasure to watch them grow and develop over the years.”
Several of Amuso’s grapplers have taken or will be taking those lessons to the college wrestling ranks, including Rodrigues (Illinois), Speno (Binghamton) and Pasqualini (Michigan State).
“It is gratifying to see kids continue wrestling at the next level,” he said. “But I think the values kids learn in wrestling like hard work and dedication can be used after high school whether kids wrestle or not. Those lessons make them into better students or help in any job.”
As for his job, Amuso said he was 95% sure he was going to retire after the season ended, but gave it a little more time and thought before making an official announcement at the team’s dinner.
“I thought the previous year would be my last, but I didn’t announce it at the dinner that year and time went by and I was asked to come back for one more year. I’m glad I did, but I knew if I didn’t announce it at the dinner this year, I might get talked into staying again. It had to come to an end sometime. I’ve been involved in Fox Lane wrestling since I was a student a million years ago,” he said with a laugh. “I love it, but I’m pleased with my decision. I think it was time.”
He won’t completely walk away. He said he looks forward to watching the team from the stands at matches and tournaments. And he will be on hand to see the state qualifiers in Albany in February 2013 when he will receive an award for all he has contributed to Section 1 wrestling and his alma mater.
“I am excited about this honor,” he said. “But coaching is about the kids and I’ve been blessed with fantastic kids to work with over the years that made my job so much easier and enjoyable.”