‘Every Philadelphia wrestler should want to be Joe Galasso’

Joe Galasso, a Father Judge junior who lives on Edgemont Street in Port Richmond, pins his opponent in the PIAA state wrestling championship Saturday in Hershey, Pa., which he went on to win. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOE HERMITT

On Saturday night, the Father Judge junior from Port Richmond became the first Philadelphia wrestler to win a state championship. Galasso’s coach said the wrestling wonder has put his team on the map.

Pennsylvania breeds high school wrestling champions in places like Easton, Clearfield and Canonsburg.

Now, you can add Port Richmond and Father Judge High School to the list.

On Saturday night, Judge junior Joe Galasso captured the 138-pound championship at the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class AAA Wrestling Tournament at the Giant Center in Hershey.

“It’s the toughest state tournament in the country,” Galasso said.

High school wrestling is not nearly as popular in Philadelphia as it is in suburban and rural areas of Pennsylvania. Often, city wrestlers get their start at the high school level. By that time, many of their counterparts already have a decade’s experience.

The PIAA has been holding wrestling tournaments since 1938. The organization also sanctions state championships in many other sports.

Philadelphia Catholic and Public League schools did not join until more recently. The Public League joined in 2004, the Catholic League four years later.

Together, they make up the PIAA’s District 12.

Galasso is the first District 12 wrestler to win a state championship. He hopes others will follow.

“I’m hoping everybody in D-12 gets inspired and changes their perspective,” he said.

Galasso played other sports and participated in karate until starting to wrestle at age 9. He got his start with the Junior Falcons and Police Athletic League programs, and now he’s a state champion.

“It’s a really exciting time for Philadelphia wrestling, the Police Athletic League, the Junior Falcons and Beat the Streets (a youth wrestling program),” said Judge coach Jim Savage. “Joe Galasso put our team on the national map. Every Philadelphia wrestler should want to be Joe Galasso.”

Galasso, 17, lives on Edgemont Street, on the same block as Savage, a former wrestler and coach at North Catholic.

“They breed us a little tougher there,” Savage said.

“We always argue who the toughest guy on Edgemont Street is,” Galasso joked.

Galasso emerged as a top youth wrestler and soon sought out tougher competition.

When it was time for Galasso to select a high school, he chose Malvern Prep. As a freshman, he went 41–6 and placed fourth at 125 pounds at the National Prep Championships.

For his sophomore year, he enrolled at Judge. He went 43–6 and took fifth at 132 pounds at the state tournament.

“One thing Joe Galasso has is no fear,” Savage said. “He is very confident.”

Galasso finished this season 45–1 to improve his career record to 128–10.

The one loss was an overtime setback to Benton senior Zain Retherford, a two-time Class AA state champion and Penn State recruit who won a gold medal last August at the FILA Cadet World Championships in Azerbaijan.

The road to Galasso’s state title was not easy.

“I had the toughest draw in the bracket. I beat three medalists,” he said.

Galasso won by a 14–4 major decision in Thursday’s first round, then posted a 5–2 quarterfinal victory on Friday against Council Rock North’s John Dutrow, a Drexel recruit who eventually finished third. He scored a takedown with four seconds to go to win his Saturday morning semifinal matchup with Franklin Regional’s Josh Maruca, who went on to take fifth.

In Saturday night’s final, he squared off with Central Dauphin’s Tyson Dippery, a Rutgers recruit who finished second in the state last year and third the year before.

The showdown went into overtime, and Galasso recorded a takedown 16 seconds into the extra session to clinch the championship with a 3–1 victory.

Galasso accepted his gold medal and stood on top of a podium as dozens of cameras flashed.

When he walked into the Holiday Inn bar, wrestlers, coaches and fans were watching a replay of the championships on the Pennsylvania Cable Network.

“They all gave me a standing ovation,” Galasso said.

On the mat, Galasso is focused on his opponent. He didn’t realize until watching the TV replay how excited the 7,000 or so fans got at watching a state championship match decided in overtime.

“I heard everybody going crazy,” said Galasso, who received a congratulatory call from Judge’s president, the Rev. Joe Campellone, the next day.

Galasso, of course, wants to be a repeat champion. He’ll compete in off-season tournaments. One of the biggies is the Super 32 Challenge: Battle for the Belt in October in Greensboro, N.C.

Colleges will really begin to notice Galasso now. A strong student with a 94 grade point average, his choices include Cornell, Penn, Princeton, Lehigh, Bucknell and North Carolina.

“Joe is just a tremendous kid. He’s worked extremely hard and really cares about his grades. His personality is infectious, ” Savage said.

Galasso is grateful to his parents, Joe and Renee, for taking him to so many tournaments and practices over the years.

Next March, he hopes to win another gold medal. The work has already begun.

“I want to be staying on top of my game,” he said. “If I’m not at wrestling practice, I’ll be in the gym lifting.”

Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215–354–3034 or twaring@bsmphilly.com.