Member of the RHAM wrestling team after the team placed second at the conference championships at Glastonbury High School on Feb. 4. The Raptors would go on to nearly capture a state champion before a controversial call cost them the top spot at the Class M finals.
Championships are supposed to be settled between the lines.
But sometimes those lines get blurred.
That’s what happened during the Class M wrestling state championships last Saturday when RHAM High School thought they had won a state title after senior Michael Marques pinned Jason Toth of East Haven in the 195 pound title bout.
Prior to Marques’ win, the Raptors trailed first-place Avon by 5 ⅕ points and the pin awarded RHAM six points and the victory…or did it.
During the team’s celebration near the wrestling mat, a member of the RHAM wrestling team didn’t have his singlet pulled up over his shoulders and the team was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by the referee, costing the team a point and a state title.
The end result was a heartbreaking ½ point loss for the stunned Raptors, who finished as the runner-up to Avon (196.5-196).
It was a shocking ending to an otherwise championship-worthy performance
RHAM head coach Ryan Fitch called the loss “heartbreaking” and said the penalty was a “pretty outrageous call.”
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), which is the governing body of high school sports in the state, uses the rule book from the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS) to determine guidelines. According to Rule 7, Section 5, Article 2: Unsportsmanlike conduct involves “failure to keep shoulder straps up while on the mat and failure to comply with the end-of-match procedure.”
Lost in the confusing controversy was the outstanding effort from the Raptors, who had seven wrestlers qualify for the State Open during the two-day meet that took place at Jonathan Law High School in Milford on Feb. 17 and 18.
RHAM placed top-six in 50% of the weight classes (7 of 14) and had a pair of wrestlers take home individual state titles.
Along with Marques winning, junior Ben Fournier (106 lbs.) also took home an individual state championship after pinning Cesar Rodriguez of Platt.
Both state champions have roots to the gridiron and in Marques’ case he was an all-conference football player this past
Fitch said Marques continued to wrestle his senior year with just one goal in mind.
“He’s a football guy, but he came back to help us win a state championship,” stated Fitch. “He went out there and pulled it off, but unfortunately it was ripped from us”
In Fournier’s case, Fitch said he “made a big leap” this season after an added emphasis on wrestling in the offseason.
Senior Dylan Devine (152 lbs.) placed as the runner-up in his weight class. Devine is captaining the team along with
Marques and recently won a Central Connecticut Conference title by defeating Jack Janes of Avon on Feb. 4.
Devine also picked up his 100th career high school win in the team’s regular season home finale against Rocky Hill on Feb. 8.
Despite missing his entire sophomore season because of the COVID-19 cancellation in 2021, Devine was still able to achieve the triple-digit win total in just three seasons.
Fitch called Devine the “backbone of the program” and said that falling short of a state title was not for a lack of effort.
“He has been unbelievable. It’s unfortunate because some people that earn it don’t always achieve it and he’s one of those guys. He earned it more than anybody else.” stated Fitch.
After struggling early in the season, junior Kyle Currier (126 lbs.) started to peak late in the season and placed 3rd at states by defeating Tristian Gauvin of Avon.
“He’s a warrior and he is only going to get better,” Fitch said of Currier.
Gavin Ploude (138 lbs.) and Dylan Koller (160 lbs.) had fourth-placed finishes, while Thiago Delacruz (285 lbs.) placed sixth to round out the seven Raptors that are headed to the State Open.
The Raptors are still holding out hope that a reversal of decisions is made that will allow them to be crowned Class M state champions, which would be the program’s first team title since 2002.
When reached for comment, the CIAC said there are still ongoing discussions but for now they are following the recommendation of the NFHS, who said that the application of the rule was correct.
An online petition entitled “Justice for RHAM Wrestling” was started on change.org in an effort to get the decision reverse. As of Wednesday morning, the petition had over 3,000 electronic signatures.
For Fitch, who has been coaching at RHAM for 28 years and was an assistant on the 2002 championship team, the entire situation is a tough pill to swallow.
“In 2002 we thought our program would be in the mix for years and years and it’s taken us this long to get back,” added Fitch, who said he has had several coaches reach out to him supporting the team. “It’s a lot of work that goes into it and I told the kids if you win a state championship it’s remembered forever. There’s always a banner on the wall, but we won a state championship and there won’t be one on the wall.”
The seven qualifying wrestlers will now look to pick up the pieces and compete in the State Open at the Floyd Athletic Center in New Haven this Saturday, Feb 25. The meet starts at 10 a.m.
Fitch, who plans to retire after next season, said that regardless of the outcome he is proud of the way his team has handled the situation and sees a promising future for the program thanks to the strong relationship they have developed with youth wrestling in the area.
“The program has grown and finally gotten to where I’ve been trying to get it for years,” added Fitch. “It’s taken all of us working as one unit and working together on the same goal.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin