WOOD RIVER JCT. — Prior to the 1993 high school wrestling season, Chariho High coach Scott Merritt and his counterpart at Westerly High, Vince Cardoza, came up with an idea to add a little spice to the rivalry between their two schools.
They chipped in and purchased a trophy, called it the Challenge Cup and decided to award it to the winner of the annual match between the two schools.
Recently, Chariho has had the better of Westerly, possessing the cup for eight straight years before Thursday. The Chargers now hold a 21-7 advantage in Cup matches.
But on Thursday night, the two schools added a bit of unique history to the rivalry, becoming the first in the state to wrestle outside. The match took place on the school’s athletic field.
Chariho won, 60-18, but the venue overshadowed everything else.
Wrestling is traditionally a winter sport, but is taking place this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic. It could likely be the only time the schools could wrestle outdoors.
“In my 30 years of coaching, there is no doubt coaching my own sons and going to Florida [for a tournament] are highlights, but this is also absolutely a highlight,” Merritt said. “Just the premise of it was so exciting.”
Westerly coach Al Gaccione said it was a special night.
“Being the first teams in the state to have a wrestling match outside, it’s kind of cool to be a part of that history,” said Gaccione, who wrestled for both schools during his high school career. “It is an opportunity that will probably never happen again.
“A few coaches had mentioned it earlier in the year and Scott and I had discussed it.”
The decision to wrestle outside was made earlier this week.
“I have to thank [athletic director] Mike Shiels and the Chariho administration for supporting the idea,” said Merritt, who is in his final season as coach. “And the RIIL [Rhode Island Interscholastic League] highly encouraged it.
“We are living in a pandemic, but we have to find ways for these kids to have some fun. This was great.”
Gaccione said his wrestlers welcomed the opportunity.
“They enjoyed it. They were pretty ecstatic about it,” Gaccione said. “Once they found out they were the first, they were even more excited.”
Merritt said a lot of things had to come together for the match to come off, but it was well worth it.
“Al was wonderful and his team is small and young, but they had a lot of fight to them,” Merritt said. “After the match, [Westerly wrestler] Brian Garcia came up to me, shook my hand and thanked me for the many times that our teams have practiced together. It was a nice gesture.”
On the mat, Chariho’s Corbin Maraia (160, :38), James Dougherty (170, 1:00), Alex Nimiroski (220, 3:41), Lance DelBonis (195, 5:43) and Brady Andrerson (152, 1:20) won with pins.
Westerly’s Garcia moved up a weight class to 132 and prevailed in 4:32. Eli Leach won by pin at 138 (2:34) as did Zach Tuck at 182 (1:39) for the Bulldogs.
Chariho’s Noah Dinucci (106), Seth Mastin (120), Allie Nelson (145), Christian Fortune (126) and Gary Gardiner (285) received forfeits.
Chariho (2-5) next hosts Cumberland and Mt. Hope on Tuesday at 6 p.m. Westerly (1-3-1) next travels to Woonsocket, also Tuesday at 6 p.m.