Friday, November 21, 2014

Wrestling: Gibble deserved better fate at Central

After 22 seasons, with over 300 wins and 11 sectional championships, Steve Gibble was officially dismissed at Hunterdon Central by a 7-2 vote at last Monday night's Board of Education meeting, Gibble also was relieved of his coaching duties in football and lacrosse.

For what reason? According to board president Claire Curry, Gibble made on off-handed remark to one of his wrestlers at a Rutgers summer camp. The exact statement was not made available to the public. Suffice it to say, at least, that no one is talking about specifics on the record. Both Gibble and longtime athletic director Bob Rossi have not returned messages seeking comment.

On the bright side, Gibble managed one more vote of support at Monday's meeting than he did on Oct. 20, when he was suspended from his coaching duties. Credit board members Lori Blutfield and Paul Ransavage for having the guts to vote against Gibble's termination, which is telling because if what Gibble said was so egregious, then why did he have any supporters on the board?

Furthermore, Gibble is still employed by the Hunterdon County school as a social studies teacher. Again, how damaging could his statement(s) to that wrestler have been?

In an ironic twist, the only two wrestling coaches in Hunterdon Central's history dating to 1957 had unceremonious endings to their tenures.

Gibble took over as head coach for the 1992-93 season when legendary coach Russ Riegel, who started the program in 1957, retired after 35 seasons following an offseason incident at a summer camp. Gibble, who wrestled under Riegel, won a region title in 1980 at 188 pounds for the Red Devils.

Gibble's teams compiled a 348-119 overall record and captured four Skyland Conference titles, in addition to winning 11 of the program's 19 sectional championships. Central also reached the Group 4 final seven times (1993, '94, '95, '99, 2000, 2003 and 2010) under Gibble. Riegel's teams went 1-4 in Group 4 finals, winning the program's only title in 1989.

This past season, Central went 19-6 and dropped a 55-9 decision to Phillipsburg in the North 2, Group 4 final. Speaking of P'burg, Gibble boasts five wins over the Stateliners in 26 meetings, including postseason victories in 2010 and '13. The 2009-10 squad joined the 1989-90 Warren Hills teams as the only clubs to defeat P'burg in a sectional final. The only coaches in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area with more career wins over P'burg are the late John Goles at Washington/Warren Hills with 12 and Henry Boresch at Newton with seven, along with Kittatinny's John Gill with six.

One look at Gibble's record and it's clear that the decision to remove him was not about wins and losses. In fact. many coaches would kill for that resume. In his 22 seasons, Central was ranked in the Coaches Top 25 Poll on 16 occasions -- missing only in 1995-96, 2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2011-12 and 2013-14 -- and finished in the top 10 in eight seasons, peaking at No. 4 in 1999-2000. The Red Devils were ranked No. 17 in the New Jersey Wrestling Writers Top 20 this past season.

Hunterdon Central has earned the state's No. 1 ranking just once -- in 1975-76 under Riegel.

Since 2000, Hunterdon Central has produced a Hunterdon-Warren best 23 state placewinners, including state champions Mike Carr (2000) and Alex Shaffer (2010). P'burg is next with 16, followed by Delaware Valley (14), North Hunterdon (10), Warren Hills (6), Belvidere and Voorhees (5), Hackettstown and North Warren (4). Overall, Gibble has coached a total of 36 state placewinners.

Gibble, like Riegel, has certainly had his detractors over the years. Many feel like Central has vastly underachieved with an extremely strong feeder program in place. I will say that you won't find a more standup guy, win or lose, as he always faced the music with media members after a match. I have covered Hunterdon Central wrestling for the better part of two decades and all of my experiences with Gibble have been extremely positive, and I can recall maybe one instance where he read his team the riot act after a loss.

How sad that his final act as a coach ended at during a summer camp where he was volunteering his time to help make kids better wrestlers.

A strong showing of support at Monday's meeting and the one in October indicates that Gibble was also popular with his wrestlers and parents, who spoke on his behalf in support. But in this day and age, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to coach and despite having more wins than losses, it could be over in a blink.

Jon Cantagallo-Rohm, as first reported by Open Mike in October, on Monday was appointed as Gibble's successor, perhaps only on an interim basis. Practices will "officially"start on Monday, Nov. 24 in New Jersey. The late dismissal of Gibble also is extremely unfair to the program.

Coaching is a tough job in this politically correct world with plenty of overzealous parents. And the dismissal of one of the good guys shows it just got a lot tougher on many levels.

1 comment:

  1. Gibble is just the latest victim of Superintendent Steffner's rule by personal vendetta. The pattern of behavior from Steffner at this point is clear and remains supported by a majority faction on the school board. While Gibble is thrown out, a supervisor convicted of a DUI and reckless driving and who refused a breathalyzer test at the scene of a police stop continues to oversee Central's drug and alcohol teaching.

    I know what Gibble said to a student who was not yet attending Central and who participated in an event unrelated to Central. It was a throwaway remark made in an attempt to engage a young man who was withdrawn and something any of us might have said in jest. The problem was not the remark, the problem was that Steffner wanted Gibble out. The basis of that ouster could have been almost anything.