An Interview with Ralph Napolitano – Part III: The Tradition

I think once you coach wrestling it becomes a part of who you are. As much as it is draining physically, emotionally, and mentally, it is what we do. I do not know how long I will be able to coach, but I am sure I do not know what to do with myself if I wasn’t a wrestling coach.

2008 Section XI Champion Jahsua Marsh
2008 Section XI Champion Jahsua Marsh

LHW:  Why do you coach wrestling?  Why not baseball, football, or Lacrosse?

Coach Nappy: I think once you coach wrestling it becomes a part of who you are. As much as it is draining physically, emotionally, and mentally, it is what we do. I do not know how long I will be able to coach, but I am sure I do not know what to do with myself if I wasn’t a wrestling coach.

LHW: Wrestling is a demanding sport for both the athletes and the coaches — especially when you are aiming to develop champions. What’s the biggest challenge in coaching a wrestling team?

Coach Nappy:  The biggest challenge as a wrestling coach is to find the personality of your team and work with it. If you do not have a pulse of the dynamics of your team, it is going to be harder to keep them motivated. The season is so long and draining that you must know when to tighten the reins and when it is necessary to loosen the reins. We have been very fortunate the past few years; our kids are a family and every year we get new members of the family that keep buying into those family dynamics and the cycle keeps going. Every team is different and it is important to coach to those differences.

LHW: Every year Brentwood finishes in the top 10 of the Suffolk County tournament.  What do you attribute the consistent success of the Brentwood program to? 

Coach Nappy: We have been successful because the kids come to us and they want to be coached. They believe in us as coaches. They work so hard and still want more. We respect them and they respect us. The off-season workouts with Coach Beach have paid great dividends for us. The kids’ attitudes and incredible work ethic is what makes us successful

Brentwood's all-time win leader Ricardo Gomez

LHW: What athlete that you coached had the most influence on you?  What kind of influence did they have on you?

Coach Nappy: There have been many athletes that have influenced me. Ricardo and Alex Gomez are two that come to mind right away. I believe that we met for a reason. Coaching them and having them in my life has been a blessing. The members of last years team will always be special to me, because of the pressure that we had put on ourselves was so great that we had to struggle to keep it from getting to us. The leadership of that team was amazing; they worked so hard and most of all had fun. I knew they were destined to be great.

Every year that I have coached at Brentwood there have been special moments that have inspired me. The way many of our kids keep rising despite the many hardships that they have had in their life is a true testament to their strength and character. Each year we have had so many special young men that it would be too hard to name just a few.

LHW: Many good athletes never make it out of their league in the stronger divisions, while less competitive athletes qualify for the county tournament in the less competitive divisions.  What’s your opinion on the league format?  Do you think it should change to something similar to how Nassau does it where they attempt to qualify the better kids by seeding the teams in the qualifying tournaments?

Brentwood's future hall of famer Alex Gomez
Brentwood's future hall of famer Alex Gomez

Coach Nappy:  I think Nassau gets it right on many levels. I do not think that the sectional qualifiers should be done by league. Every season you see quality, All-County kids not making it to the counties due to their league being so stacked. I like the way Nassau does it because it makes an already tough county tournament better because the best kids are there. This year, Suffolk League 5 is going to be a bloodbath to get to the counties; whereas in League 6, a team like John Glenn will put almost their whole team into the counties. The year Mount Sinai won the counties we had beaten them in a dual by at least 20 points, but we only qualified seven to the counties because League 1 was a war to get out of.

LHW: Nassau County has a dual tournament at the end of the season.  Would you like to see something similar implemented in Suffolk County?  If so, what obstacles do you feel must be overcome in order for this to happen in Suffolk?

Coach Nappy: I would love a dual meet championship. It would be great for our sport. However there are many programs that would not want it. We have always sought out the best teams to wrestle, because I feel that competition breeds success. If you host a dual meet tournament and only invite teams that you know you can beat by 40 points, I think you’re doing your team a disservice come postseason. A dual meet tournament in Suffolk would bring out the masses; it would be a huge money maker for section XI and great for the fans.

LHW: What’s your opinion on the new regional proposal for the NYS championships?  Is this good for Suffolk?

Coach Nappy: I like the idea of having the regionals. I am in favor of getting the best guys to the state tournament.  If a regional format is the way to accomplish that, than I am in favor of it. As a side note,  I like the fact that the wrestlers at the states will be allowed to wear their school singlets. While, I would miss the blue and white of Suffolk, I will always prefer the Indian green and white.

LHW: Thank you coach for taking the time to talk with us and for your candid and heartfelt answers to our questions.  We wish you and Brentwood much success this season.

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