Senior Max Casiano is a perfect 8-0 so far this season. (Darin Reed photo.)
Senior Max Casiano is a perfect 8-0 so far this season. (Darin Reed photo.)

Blue Devil Matmen Top Three Nassau Teams

December 11, 2023

Jonathan Granito, Max Casiano and Christian St. John all improved to 8-0 this winter as the trio of seniors led the Huntington varsity wrestling team over three Nassau County opponents last weekend at Locust Valley in the Takedown the Stigma dual meet tournament.

The Blue Devils bested Island Trees (45-30), Farmingdale (52-19) and Locust Valley (39-34). Huntington’s only loss was to Kings Park, 35-31. The team lamented the absence of starter Vincent Pupillo, who was out of the lineup due to sickness.

Granit, Casiano and St. John all coasted through their matches. Huntington’s other top wrestlers also improved their marks, including Thomas Smith (6-2), Christopher Granito (5-2), Walter Kusterbeck (5-2), Brandon Fucci (5-4) and Jeffrey Quintanilla (3-3).

The Blue Devils host Deer Park on Wednesday at 4 p.m. in Louis D. Giani Gymnasium before traveling to West Islip on Friday for a 6:45 p.m. league dual meet. Huntington grapples in the Ralph Jansson Tournament at Valley Stream North next Saturday.

Casiano is looking to get back the state tournament, which he qualified for last year as a junior. Granito, St. John, Smith and Pupillo are also looking to reach the state finals.

“We have a young team with many inexperienced wrestlers,” head coach Travis Smith said. “It will take time for everyone to develop. In the meantime, our veteran wrestlers are very good and we will look to them to carry us, especially early in the season.”

Huntington Wrestling History

The Huntington wrestling team traces its roots to 1933 when the school sponsored a boxing and wrestling club. The club led to the creation of an interscholastic team for the 1937 and 1938 seasons before the sport disappeared again until 1951-52.

The 1934 high school yearbook states “Boxing and wrestling, a club long desired by the students of H.H.S. was, for the first time, taken up seriously and successfully this year. Under expert supervision, great strides were taken in the development of individual talents. The boys, realizing the importance of healthy bodies, endeavored to include in their organization such means as would prove directly beneficial to their physical developments.”

At one time, boxing was growing in popularity in New York schools. Reportedly, it was eventually banned following the death of a student participant somewhere in the state. However, in Depression-era Huntington, a group of boys took a liking to it.

“Regular meetings were held in the gymnasium during which some groups followed a training schedule while others participated in an interesting elimination tournament,” according to The Huntingtonian. “Mr. Roscoe Baker, who acted as faculty advisor, was of great assistance in promoting interest both within the club and in stimulating a desire for interschool competition.”

Senior James Sposato was the founder and president of the club. He is described in the high school yearbook as “an accomplished boxer.” The yearbook states that Mr. Sposato “gave valuable instruction in the art of self-defense and refereed the bouts in the tournament. The boys expect that interest in the boxing and wrestling club will mount to new heights and that in years to come the benefits of this club will be enjoyed by a greater number of high school students.”

In 1937 there was so much enthusiasm for wrestling that physical education teacher-coach William Class and a few students got together and decided to make wrestling a minor sport and seek outside competition. Meets were scheduled with Lindenhurst, Bay Shore and Garden City.

The first meet was held on February 12, 1937 as Huntington lost to Lindenhurst, 25-10. Huntington Station’s Charlie Smith won the first match in school history, taking a decision in the 105 lb. weight class.

Harold Cole helped spur the development of the team. An experienced grappler, Cole transferred to Huntington High School from an upstate school and easily won at 155 lbs. in the school’s inaugural meet.

Jack “Half-Nelson” Ackerly, one of the greatest Huntington athletes of his era, as well as a four-time class president, co-captain of the football team (he played center) and three-year letter-winner in track, lost a wild bout during that first meet.

Acklery was ahead of his foe when he thought the referee blew his whistle to stop action. He released his opponent who immediately turned and threw the Blue Devil grappler to his back.

Huntington’s John Scanlon and Teddy Clayton both won exhibition matches on that historic day. Huntington finished that first season with a 1-2 record. The win came on February 23, 1937 against Garden City, 25-21. All meets were away since the Blue Devils lacked an area to hold a meet. Cole went on to place in the 1937 Suffolk County tournament, becoming the first Huntington wrestler to win all-county honors.

Seven wrestlers qualified for the 1938 county meet. The team finished with a 4-4 record. Following the season the squad was disbanded due to lack of continued interest.

Wrestling was reintroduced in 1951 with math teacher Frank Kubisa at the helm. Huntington has continuously fielded a team since then. The first meet in the current Huntington High School gym was held on January 16, 1959. The Blue Devils topped visiting Calhoun, 22-21.

Lou Giani joined the reinstated sport as a junior in 1951 and became Huntington’s first Suffolk County champion in 1953 when he won the 141 lb. title. Giani went on to represent the United States in the 1960 Olympics in Rome before becoming turning his attention to coaching and becoming a legendary mat mentor. Giani compiled a record of 416-32 in 40 seasons as the Blue Devils’ head coach.

Coach Jamie St. John gives advice to Walter Kusterbeck. (Darin Reed photo.