Up until very recently, there hadn’t been a wrestling program at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School for more than 40 years. But everything changed last school year when Coach Jerry Kadien and then-sophomore M.J. Magaraci became catalysts for the realization of a shared goal: bringing a team to the Island.
For Coach Kadien, a math teacher and a wrestling coach since 2008, hailing from Atlanta, forming a team was something that he’d been thinking about for several months, even bringing it up in his job interview back in 2020. For Magaraci, a passionate mixed martial artist for several years, he had wondered why all the schools on the mainland had wrestling teams, but the Vineyard did not.
So when the duo first met in Kadien’s homeroom two years ago, the stage was set. Magaraci quickly recruited a bunch of his friends to join the club, and Kadien recruited former wrestlers Morgan Douglas (manager of the Black Dog Tall Ships) and Paul Danielovich (retired principal and athletic director) to be his assistant coaches.
In their first year as a club, the Vineyarders met twice a week in the cafeteria for nearly three months, building skills and laying a foundation for future success. According to Kadien, none of the high schoolers had really wrestled before; some had adjacent experience, but they all definitely needed to do some groundwork. Yet the kids took to it. “It was an easy transition,” Magaraci said. “It’s been really fun.”
Originally, Kadien planned on running practices last year for only 10 weeks at the most, but there was so much interest from Magaraci and Co. that they went for two more. And then this year, membership numbers nearly doubled, ballooning from roughly 10 wrestlers to nearly 20. “We hit the ground running,” Kadien stated. “It felt close to the mold of a regular program.”
Kadien upped practices to three times a week, and began to increase their intensity and duration. The Vineyarders even attended their first tournament back in January, in which they placed ninth out of 19 junior varsity teams, and had seven medalists. It was a big deal for everyone involved.
“We all went in thinking we wouldn’t do as well as we did,” Magaraci explained. “I’m very surprised and proud we managed to.” He was among two Vineyarders that finished as semifinalists in their respective weight classes.
Kadien pointed out how the team’s performance affected them, saying, “They carried themselves differently that Tuesday [their first day back from MLK break] … It was a very proud moment for me, and a breakthrough for the program.”
But the work is far from over for Kadien, Magaraci, and everyone else involved, who still have bigger ideas for the club. Their ultimate goal is to become a varsity team at MVRHS, and even get a youth feeder program going in the community.
Becoming a varsity team is a complicated process, involving forming a booster club (M.J.’s parents have already taken on the roles of president and vice president), getting a stipend for uniforms and other costs, and graduating from the MVRHS cafeteria as a practice space. Functioning as a club for two years is a key prerequisite that the Vineyard wrestlers and coaches have met, and Kadien says there’s a good amount of support from administrators to become a varsity team, so he thinks he’s “a couple meetings away” from making the next step.
As for starting a youth program, Kadien knows from personal experience how important this piece is. He started his coaching career helping run a feeder program in Atlanta, and saw the dividends it paid for the high school he went on to coach at.
“[Starting one] is an absolute must; it’s something we can’t ignore … especially being on an Island,” Kadien said. He explained that it doesn’t need to be competitive, but rather something that’s fun and helps build a buzz around wrestling from the bottom up.
Fortunately for Kadien and his team, there’s already some interest in the community about getting Island youngsters involved with the sport. According to Kadien, parents and administrators from local elementary and middle schools have reached out to him via email about organizing a youth program, and he hopes it will come to fruition in the near future.
As for the Vineyarders currently involved, they’ll only get better and better. The club is only graduating one senior this year, and the squad has eaten up everything given to them so far. Kadien is encouraging them to train together this off-season, and is excited for what’s to come. “The kids seem eager,” Kadien said.
Magaraci echoed his sentiments, saying, “I’m looking forward to seeing how we perform next year.”