By GERRY deSIMAS, JR.
Connecticut Wrestling Online
PLYMOUTH, Feb. 5, 2001 -- When Gilbert School wrestling coach Jim Rollins looks out on the practice mats this afternoon in Winsted, he will be looking out on the team that won the Berkshire League Tournament.
In truth, Nonnewaug claimed its fifth straight BL Tournament championship Saturday at Terryville High with a 19-point victory over Gilbert, 198½ to 179½.
But Rollins doesn't coach just the Yellowjackets. For the past four years and several other seasons over the last 12 years, he has coached wrestlers from neighboring Northwestern Regional.
This year, four Highlanders have trained all season with the Yellowjackets under Rollins' tutelage. Two Northwestern wrestlers won titles Saturday with Mike Sinclair (112) and Mike Welcome (119) bringing home championships while James O'Brien finished second at 130.
Welcome has been with Rollins and the Yellowjackets for four years. In fact, Welcome and Gilbert's Devin Schibi (160) are the co-captains of the Gilbert team.
Add the 65 points that the Highlanders earned and Rollins' team would have earned 244.5 points and would have won by 46 points. But the reality is the trophy is in Woodbury with the deserving Chiefs.
Still, it took nothing away from a stellar effort by the Yellowjackets, who crowned four champions and placed eight wrestlers in the finals. Schibi, Steve Dombrowski (140), Steve Romano (145) and Ryan Wheeler (171) won titles for Gilbert (9-13-1, 4-0 BL).
"I think it was the most amazing coaching event of my career," said Rollins, now in his 17th season. "Every part of the community came together and did its part. My team was a community. Coaches, fans – and lots of them, teammates and parents. We were united and we achieved together. It was moving. It was pure beauty."
The effort from the Yellowjackets and Highlanders made Rollins and his assistant coach Jerry Trieschmann smile.
"We all did our best," Rollins said. "The camaraderie with Northwestern and Gilbert added to it."
Fans, athletes and parents from Northwestern and Gilbert cheered as one.
Under Rollins, the Yellowjackets have won four BL Tournaments, the most recent in 1996. Eight times they have finished second, twice losing by four points.
"I honestly don't think the first place trophy would have made the day any better," he said. "It might have taken away from the joy of what occurred."
SEARCHING FOR A COACH: As far back at 1989, Northwestern Regional wrestlers have been training under Rollins at Gilbert. Saturday was the first time that a Highlander wrestler won a BL title.
Northwestern athletic director Candy Perez hopes to have a full-fledged team at the school next year. Her original plan was to have Northwestern field its own team this year but she couldn't find a qualified coach.
The school has had a mat for years that Wolcott Tech has been borrowing and there is money in the budget for the coach and transportation.
"We really appreciate everything Jim Rollins and Gilbert have done," Perez said. "They have taken in our kids allowed them to wrestle and develop their skills."
Only four Northwestern wrestlers are competing this year but Perez is confident that the Highlanders could field a full varsity team if they practiced at the school.
"We have 600 kids in the high school. Thirty are playing (boys) basketball, 15 or so are swimming," she said. "That leaves about 250 or more to pick from. I think we would be OK."
FAMILY ATMOSPHERE AT TECH: Wolcott Tech (6-5, 1-3 BL) posted its first-ever winning season this year under first-year head coach Craig Schroeder, the former Torrington Park and Recreation Director.
Senior Jeff Dew (189) of Winsted won his third straight BL title, Matt Ellis (275) of Torrington won and senior Justin Tucker (135) of Torrington won a BL title and earned outstanding wrestler honors at the BL Tournament.
Ellis weighed only 194 pounds but still wrestled at 275, beating Gilbert's Matt Gillette in the finals, 7-1.
The Wildcats had 22 kids on the team and came close to filling all 14 weight classes this season. There are only three seniors on the team along with three juniors and eight freshmen.
The best previous Tech record was 2-9-1 in 1999.
"I've seen a tremendous difference in the attitude," said Schroeder, who wrestled in college at Ohio Northern University in 1969. "The kids came together as a family. They treat each other as a family. They're in excellent condition."
Dew is 17-1 while Tucker is 14-4. Steven Carpenter (215) is 12-6. There are only three seniors on the team along with three juniors and eight freshmen.
The Wildcats will next compete in the Class M championships at Windham High on Feb. 16-17 along with local rivals Holy Cross and Seymour.
MAT DUST -- Gilbert's Ryan Wheeler won a BL title at 171 pounds. But he weighed in at 156 pounds. He moved up a weight class because defending Class S champion Devin Schibi is the varsity wrestler at 160. ... ; Gilbert, Nonnewaug, Northwestern, Housatonic, Terryville and Thomaston will compete at the Class S championships on Feb. 16 and 17 at Plainville High.
Northwestern's Mike Welcome (119) was very focused on the BL Tournament in practice. He had lost in the BL finals at 112 in 1999 and at 119 a year ago. "He has been so intense," Rollins said. "He has been the epitome of wrestling in the practice room for the last three weeks. He has been so focused. He just drilled and drilled."