After six years as varsity head coach, division titles, and seeing a number of his wrestlers make the States, Dominic Zarrella is stepping down.
“I have coached wrestling for 23 years,” Zarrella said. “At the end of the year I thought of stepping down but wanted to find the right coach. When I heard coach (Phil) Brown was available, I called him. We had always had a strong relationship. and a bunch of our wrestlers attended his club (Dark Corners).”
Former Saugerties wrestling standout James Bethel, who took third in the States a few years back, credits Brown for a lot of his success.
Another former Saugerties wrestler, Brian Every, known as the “hardest-working wrestler” to come out of the Sawyers’ wrestling program, also endorsed Brown. Every, who now coaches at The New York Wrestling Club in Saugerties, has worked with Phil Brown. Every said Brown was the type of coach who “won’t take crap.”
He wants to get the job done, said Every. “He’s passionate about the sport and is a great guy.”
Indeed, passion for the sport is what jumps out about Brown. It was a sport that saw him become the Armed Services European Champion and go to two Olympic Trials.
Brown learned to wrestle at Kingston High School. “I started in fifth grade under coach Dean Short,” Brown said. “I did well my first year, and then wrestled for two years at Miller Middle School, where I went undefeated in eighth grade.”
Wrestling at 119 pounds in his senior year of high school in 1977, Brown became the first Kingston wrestler to make the States. He finished third.
After graduation, Brown went to Morgan State on a wrestling scholarship and was a two-time NCAA wrestling All-American. While at Morgan State, Brown enrolled in the ROTC. Twenty-one years later, he retired as an Army major.
While in the Army, he started out in an armored division, went to Rangers school, served in Iraq, and wrestled. He wrestled freestyle and Greco-Roman.
Twenty-one years later, Brown retired as an Army major. He found that his old coach Dean Short was still at Kingston High School. Short convinced his former wrestler to come on board as coach of the modified team, “where I coached the first female wrestler to come out of Kingston High School,” he said.
After two years he became an assistant varsity coach. He created the Dark Corners Wrestling Club, which many of the top wrestlers in the mid-Hudson region have attended.
Several weeks ago, Zarrella, who is also the Saugerties high school athletic director, reached out to Brown. “I heard that coach Brown was going to Wallkill,” Zarrella said. “I have known him a long time and hold him in the highest regard. He is the type of coach that has a ton of energy and kids really respond to him. His resume speaks for itself.”
Brown, who’s just getting to know the kids, says he’s “a loud coach.” He lets his wrestlers know what he’s thinking.
“I feel good about this,” Brown said. “It’s my purpose in life, working with the kids. It’s my passion.”
How does Zarrella see the team doing? “It will be very difficult, as we are now the smallest large school in the Section,” he said, “but we will hold our own. This year we only have one senior on the team, but we also have a number of tough juniors and sophomores.”
Mike Bucci, father of junior Matt Bucci, will coach the junior varsity. He was a state champ in wrestling for Red Hook in 1990.
Zarrella says this is the perfect time to hand the coaching responsibilities over to Brown. “I feel we have the best staff in the Section,” Zarrella said. “As the athletic director I couldn’t be happier. I will stay on and coach the modified. It is the role I had my first twelve years and one I enjoy. I will help coach Brown with a lot of the paperwork so he can focus on coaching.”