Several Matawan Regional High School student-athletes and parents attended a recent Board of Education meeting to express their discontent that Coach Jess Monzo would not be rehired for the 2012-13 year.
Monzo started as a physical education teacher at the high school five years ago. He initially joined the wrestling staff as an assistant coach and two years ago Monzo moved up to head coach.
Sophomore Chris Hartigan stood at the podium and recalled a time when he was regularly missing school and was failing most of his classes. He was even considering dropping out because he felt his education did not matter, he said.
"Two days before the first day of wrestling practice, I was talking to Coach Monzo about my grades and absences. He told me I was not allowed to wrestle until my grades were higher, and not to be absent anymore. So I waited two long weeks to get on the mat," Hartigan said, describing how his grades and attendance have since improved and he hopes now to go on to wrestle in college.
"I feel that without Coach Monzo's help, I would have never gotten as far in school as I am today," he said.
Wendy Rodriguez, the mother of a varsity wrestler, also approached the podium and spoke of Monzo's qualifications as a teacher, a coach, and a mentor. She carried with her a thick stack of petitions signed by both parents and students encouraging the board to rehire Monzo.
"Coach Monzo has such an excellent rapport with each of his students. He treats every single one of them with respect and they give it right back to him. It's always obvious to me how much he sincerely cares about all of the boys. You don't always see that. He devotes so much of his own time to the boys and the wrestling program, so much more than he needs to," Wendy said.
"I never observed him as a teacher," she continued. "A lot of people were saying that the way he teaches health, the way he teaches gym, he really takes it seriously. He goes over and above the same way I know he does in the wrestling program."
Wendy's son Billy emphasized the life lessons Monzo taught the team, including self respect, respect for others and teamwork.
"The biggest, most important reason he should stay is because of all he has done for Matawan Wrestling this year," said Billy, who recently finished his freshman season with a record of 25-9 at 126 pounds. "He was the father of our wrestling team. I hope you realize the mistakes you have made and how many hearts are being broken. All I want next year, for my sophomore year, is to have Coach Monzo."
Nancy Varsanyi spoke about Monzo's impact on her son Steve, a senior wrestler who will be graduating in June.
"I saw Mr. Monzo inspire him the four years that he was there. He is going into Seton Hall with a dual major in physics and engineering. He will require a lot of discipline and inspiration and I know for a fact he got that through his wresting team, mostly through his coach. Please reconsider your decision. He is a great man and a great leader," Varsanyi said.
Monzo was present at the meeting and heard his players and their parents speak on his behalf. He declined to answer questions about not being rehired.
The next Board of Education meeting will take place on Monday, April 30 at 7 p.m.