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Jason Shaughnessy is Fairfield wrestling

Posted Sunday, January 27, 2013 by Rich Pittera
SPORTS FAIRFIELD: Jason Shaughnessy is Fairfield wrestling By Rich Pittera Fairfield Warde's Jason Shaughnessy. Photo by Mary Albl/Minuteman View and purchase photos If you grew up in the town of Fairfield and graduated before the spring of 1997, then you probably don’t remember your schools wrestling team very well. With the exception of Mike and Matt Grapski, all-state wrestlers from the late 80s and early 90s, chances are, you rarely saw any wrestling in the newspaper headlines either. Fairfield was never known for its wrestling and the number of athletes who participated in the sport was minimal. Today, the story is a little different; correction, a lot different. Thanks to one man, Fairfield boasts some of the best wrestlers in the state from elementary to high school along with many more who have gone off to college to compete. That man is Warde head coach Jason Shaughnessy. Since his first year in Fairfield, Shaughnessy has worked tirelessly to put the town on the wrestling map. Shaughnessy entered the 2012-13 season with a combined 277-65-2 record, bearing three state championship rings and broke Danbury’s 23-year win-streak for the FCIAC title in 2010. Still not convinced Fairfield is a wrestling town? Try this for a little factoid. Shaughnessy has coached his teams to top 10 finishes in the state 10 of the past 11 years dating back to 2001, his fourth year in Fairfield. Even more astonishing is that it took him only four years to turn a two-win program into one of the best. “He’s a tremendous asset to not only Warde wrestling but Fairfield’s athletic community in general,” Warde Athletic Director Chris Manfredonia said. “He’s passionate about his craft and is someone that other coaches aspire to be like.” Shaughnessy’s wrestling career started in his home town of Lakeland, N.J. He picked up the sport in the fifth grade and eventually became a senior captain for Lakeland High School which competed in a region consisting of some of the top high school wrestling programs in the nation. After high school, he went on to attend Springfield College, Mass. and was the captain of the wrestling team his senior year. He stayed on the team after graduation as an assistant coach while completing two years of grad school. Shaughnessy first began working in the Fairfield public school system in the fall of 1997. At the age of 25, he came to Fairfield to be a physical education teacher at Mill Hill Elementary. At the same time, Fairfield High School had a vacancy for a wrestling coach. A month before the 1997-98 season began, Shaughnessy was named the school’s new head coach. The team had only 13 members in a sport with 14 weight classes. Adding to the problem was that some of the wrestlers competed in the same weight class. Shaughnessy’s first season ended with two wins and 20 losses. It didn’t take long for him to realize things needed to change in Fairfield. He knew a culture of wrestling was nonexistent and needed to be developed. In the offseason, Shaughnessy created the towns PAL youth wrestling program opening up the sport to young athletes and spent nearly every day after school working out in the high school’s weight room talking up wrestling to other sport athletes, specifically the football players. The following fall, one of the football players Shaughnessy worked to recruit was Lee Mannion, a freshman. “As a freshman I had pre-planned to do track,” Mannion said. “One day during a football practice my coach introduced me to Shaughnessy. When I shook his hand he wouldn’t let it go until I said I would wrestle. So I ended up wrestling.” The first year wrestler became the team’s 119 varsity wrestler. Mannion completed his first season with a 2-20 personal record, but with a larger volume of wrestlers on the team, the Mustang team led by Shaughnessy was able to finish above .500 with a 12-10 record. While some may have called Shaughnessy’s second season a success, both Mannion and Shaughnessy were far from satisfied. “From the last day of practice to the first day of the next season Lee never stopped wrestling,” Shaughnessy said. “He was in there every day after school.” Added Mannion: “Wrestling is one of those sports that goes beyond the physical aspect and requires a great deal of mental toughness. Shaughnessy was always there willing to open up the weight room or take out the mats if we wanted. He made people accountable and I knew if I did what he said good things would happen.” Mannion had bought into Shaughnessy’s program. The next season, Shaughnessy’s third year as coach, Mannion went 28-8 and Fairfield finished 18-5. By 2001, Mannion was 45-2 leading Fairfield to a 24-1 record, good for an eighth place ranking in the state, the first time Fairfield was ever in the state’s top 10. Mannion went on to finish his senior year 50-1 in the 135 weight class, the State Open champ, third at New England and the Connecticut wrestler of the year. “I always used my time with Shaughnessy to form the basis of my character in life,” Mannion said. “He helped me to gain a lot of confidence and changed my life significantly by letting me be part of the program.” Today, countless more of Shaughnessy’s wrestlers have made great achievements. Last winter, Warde sent Pharaoh Eaton and Mike Money to New Englands, a rare feat for many. “Coach is always pushing us to be better,” undefeated senior Eaton said. “He motivates us to show up to each practice and to put the time in.” Like many others in Fairfield, Eaton is a product of the PAL program which Shaughnessy has run since he started it in 1998. With more than 100 students from third to eighth grade enrolled, the youth program has been a key building block in not only the Warde program, but Ludlowe’s as well. Along with most of the Warde team, Ludlowe’s Ben Batulanon, Ben Brozski, AJ Sullivan, and George Wales are among some of the notable wrestlers who have received instruction from Shaughnessy through the youth program. “He’s a really good coach,” Izaake Zuckerman, an eighth grader in the PAL program said. “He watches us wrestle and if he sees that we’re struggling on a move hell work with us to fix it.” Whether it is the high school team or the youth team, in season or out of season, the general consensus from those who know him is that Shaughnessy is dedicated and passionate about what he does. He will spend 30 to 40 hours a week preparing his own team and researching and studying other wrestlers from around the state while balancing a job as a physical education teacher at Warde and being both a husband and a father of three. “He’s been a part of my life since middle school and has made me the man I am today,” undefeated Warde senior captain Thomas Anania said. “He has taught me what it means to be a winner and what it takes to get there.” Now in his sixteenth year in Fairfield, his high school wrestling team holds more than 60 athletes compared to just the 13 he had in 1997. The Warde squad is undefeated so far this season with three wrestlers who have yet to lose a match. Since his first season, no team he’s coached has had a record under .500. The culture he has built is both successful and one that is prized by many. Jason Shaughnessy is Fairfield wrestling, just as Fairfield wrestling is Jason Shaughnessy.

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