Hicksville wrestling coach’s influence goes beyond grappling
Hard work pays off. If you harbor any doubts about this maxim, look no further than the Hicksville High School wrestling team. Led by junior Guillermo Reyes, the Comets are 4-0 in Conference 1B despite possessing an overall 7-10 record as of press time. Reyes, who competes in the 120-pound weight class, took second after going to the County Finals last year and was the teams’ first finalist in nearly two decades. This year, he’s got a good shot at returning to the County Finals and possibly ascending to the State Finals as well. Other standouts include senior three-time All League grapplers Tyler Krom Powell (195-pound weight class) and Anthony Lopus (145-pound weight class), who both have a shot at cracking All County for the first time. It’s a rightful point of pride for Comets coach Rich Carroll.
“It’s been one of those years. Everything is starting to click. The kids are finally starting to buy in,” he said. “They bought in a couple of years ago, but they really bought in this year, especially the young guys who came in and got with the program. It’s nice to show up to things knowing that we can win.”
With the varsity team numbering at 25 members including backups, the junior varsity ranks are also robust and number around 27 or 28. Currently there are around 17 varsity wrestlers that qualify for tournament action. Some are out due to injury or grades. With the season starting back on Nov. 7, all this adds up to three months of solid work and dedication that hopefully leads to the Comets seeing their season extend to the end of February.
“We’re out on the mats every day. In the beginning, it’s Monday through Saturday, but once the tournaments start, it’s Monday through Friday, from 3:30 until about 6 or 6:15 p.m. every night,” Carroll explained.
The Levittown native knows what he speaks of, having headed up the Hicksville program as a coach for the past 17 years. Prior to that, he’d gotten his start in the Island Trees district. As a four-sport athlete (football, wrestling, baseball, lacrosse), Carroll grew up under the tutelage of his father and uncles, all of whom patrolled the gridiron sidelines as play callers. While familial issues derailed his athletic aspirations early on, coaching proved to be a convenient fall-back.
“I gave [playing] a shot at Nassau Community College. Unfortunately, my grandfather had passed away and it was tough to continue. I could have kept playing, but I had to drop out for the family. Unfortunately, that ended my playing career at 18, which stunk,” he recalled. “But I knew I had a second career in coaching. So I started at the age of 18. I had some really good coaches, including my father and uncles along the way. I never really looked back after that.”
While he’s always embraced the idea of shaping his charges into better athletes, Carroll realized the larger scope of his role as a mentor.
“In the beginning it about was trying to build a program, having kids buy in and show up. Now, that they’re there already, I feel like the challenges today are whether the kids can stay away from drugs and if they can commit full-time, with grades being everything. We have to find a fine line of when they can study, practice and participate,” he said. “It’s funny, in the 17 to 20 years of coaching wrestling and football, the challenges have changed, particularly battling with the street as well. I coach football at Baldwin now and even here in Hicksville and at Island Trees—I coached football in all three spots. The challenges are all the same. Can you pull the kids away enough to have them focus, turn their lives around and be positive? Or will they succumb to the street or their buddies’ lives and go down a bad path? That’s a handful right there that we deal with on a daily basis.”
Personal responsibility and accountability are at the heart of the message Carroll tries to deliver to his players. But even he realizes that his caring and discipline can only go so far.
“I know the parents are always grateful to us for giving those messages out. But at the end of the day, it has to come down to your son or daughter doing the right thing. I can only steer them so much,” he said. “I have a life at home and I love their kids, but I can’t be there 24-7 so at some point the bell has to go off and they have to realize this isn’t right and this isn’t the situation they want to end up in. And they know it too. The parents know they can’t be there all the time.”
Currently serving as a teaching assistant at Herricks High School, Carroll hopes to end up with a full-time position, where he can continue to teach and coach. In the meantime, he’s derived plenty of satisfaction from some of the feedback he’s received coming off of nearly two decades of coaching.
“For me, the most rewarding part of all this is that when the kids leave here, they have a good head on their shoulders and become successful. It’s never about me. I did this already,” he said. “When I first started, it was all coaching. As I went through it all, I realized that it really wasn’t about the coaching. It’s about getting the kids to buy into life and having a good head on their shoulders. So my reward is when guys come back with a family, a full-time job and they just thank you at the end of the day. It’s really what it’s all about.”