Lake Buena Vista, Fl. – It’s no secret that when it comes to the sport of amateur wrestling, opinions vary.
While we all know wrestling, in its earliest form, was the oldest competitive sport we had, it remains a mystery why the popularity throughout this country, is not what it is worldwide.
You can trace the success, here in South Florida to the athletes we produce. With no college wrestling and legends to follow locally, the infusion came in from outside the area.
Back in the day, younger college graduates from the Midwest and Northeast, with a wrestling background, would come down in search of teaching and coaching positions to take in the sun and sand. When they saw how many athletes there were to work with, they stayed and brought down others with the same skill and teaching level.
Last weekend, at the Wyndham Hotel near Disney, wrestling in the state of Florida showed just how far it has come – when the National Wrestling Hall of Fame – Florida Chapter – hosted its 17th induction for those who have elevated the sport.
As hundreds gathered for the weekend, the focus was on many who had made a difference and join the other HOF members, which include 76 coaches, contributors and media members who have blazed a path to follow in Florida.
Under the direction of longtime organizers and wrestling supporters Gary and Jane Townsend, this entire celebration has taken off through the years. Both Hall of Fame inductees, they have kept this flame alive with so many others, and that has been the main difference.
With Terry Shockley, Chairman of the Board of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, on hand for this evening, the focus was on the six who were in this year’s tremendous class.
Among those enshrined in the Hall of Fame include: Dan Kelly (Venice), the late Russell Mauger (St. Petersburg Dixie Hollins & Pinellas Park) and longtime Bradenton Southeast coach Bob Thomas.
THE 305 AND 954 ON DISPLAY
As all were honored throughout the weekend – with several events hosted – there were three South Floridians who have really impacted the sport and truly deserved the honor.
COACH FIDEL ALBELO (MIAMI BELEN JESUIT): Here is a native of Cuba, who has never fully grasped the English language, but this likeable and passionate coach needs no translation when it comes to teaching and winning.
Here is not only a tremendous coach and person, but has truly become the ambassador of the powerful Miami-Dade County wrestling community.
Since 1993, Albelo has guided his teams to five Top 10 FHSAA finishes in state competition. He also had nine individual champs and 20 place winners.
Above all, Fidel Albelo loves to have fun and has looked to icons such as Rick Tucci for guidance through the years.
“Having been around International competition for decades, working Olympic Games, you meet some dynamic people,” Tucci explained. “Fidel is one of those passionate and extremely knowledgeable coaches who we met in Cuba. He deserves this honor so much. He has hurdled a lot of obstacles along the way. He is also an outstanding referee as well.”
COACH ALLEN HELD (WESTON CYPRESS BAY): Since the 1980’s, there are very few who have elevated two sports the way this South Broward High graduate did through the years.
As a football coach at Hallandale and his alma mater, he did some amazing things, developing and churning out talent like NFL Pro Bowler Davin Joseph.
Joseph was a key to the other sport that Held coached. It was a sport that he had been around all of his life.
As productive as he was on the football field – and he knows football, wrestling was his comfort zone – his sweet spot.
This is a sport that he had been around all of his athletic life.
Over a 27 year period, his programs at Hallandale, South Broward and now at Cypress Bay, have helped to produce 450 wins, 93 FHSAA qualifiers and six individual champions, including Joseph, twice, and Held’s son, A.J.
“Allen has always been everyone’s favorite, and for good reason,” Tucci said. “He runs a tremendous and efficient tournament and his kids are always talented and understand how to behave. Another of those coaches that we have all watched and appreciated what he has done. He is special.”
HENRY JACKSON (HOLLYWOOD CHAMINADE-MADONNA): For this Miami Carol City graduate, it was all about creating opportunities and working hard to reach his goals. A Miami-Dade Junior College standout who qualified for the national tournament before he was a two-time All-Southeastern Conference performer at the University of Florida.
Among his head coaching positions included Miami Central, Plantation and currently at Chaminade-Madonna, where he is building a program back up.
“Henry was special, and we could see it right away,” said Tucci, who happened to be his junior college coach and responsible for helping him reach those goals. “Great family and a tremendous work ethic. One of the most complete people you will meet. We have remained close through the years.”
In addition to the Townsends, others instrumental in making this a first class production included: Sam Agresti, Bill Combs, Don Smith, Robert Matyskiel and talented and all-around great guy, Robert Burns, who also used his great voice to MC the event.
“I think we really showcased this sport and the Hall of Fame this weekend,” Gary Townsend explained. “We are doing this better and better every year. Just keep in mind that no other state does anything like this.”
Catch the South Florida High Sports Radio Show each Monday night (9-10) on WQAM (560AM). For the past 10 years, the players and coaches who are making the headlines, join the program. You will learn a lot!