He was a wrestling state champion at Patchogue-Medford High School, an All-American in college, was an alternate for the 1991 Pan-American Games and reached the cusp of qualifying for the 1992 Olympics. In his day, Nick Garone was one of the most decorated wrestlers that Long Island has ever seen.
Now as a sixth-year head coach at Eastport-South Manor, he’s out to be the best teacher he can, helping kids reach some of the goals he set for himself a quarter century ago.
“I coached at the college level and did some other things, and it was a great opportunity to get back in and be a part of something that was a huge part of my life,” Garone said. ““I really had a lot of knowledge inside my head that I could give back to some kids. It would have been a shame if I did nothing with it.”
There’s no teaching experience like that acquired on the mat, and as a competitor, Garone wrestled hundreds of matches and spent countless hours perfecting his craft over a 15-plus-year career. It began in sixth grade. By the time he was a freshman at Pat-Med, he was no rookie. However, first-year varsity wrestlers weren’t expected to be major factors at the varsity level.
“Coaches and parents were preparing me for the worst,” Garone recalled. “I was thinking ‘Why? I’m not going to let anybody beat me. I’m going to bang heads and do whatever I could to win every single match.’ It ended up working out well.”
Instead, he placed second in League I at 98 pounds as a frosh, earning the first of four All-League designations. Garone won 46 matches over his next two years but a county title eluded him, and because wild cards to the state championships did not exist then, he hadn’t earned so much as All-State accolades.
Garone made up for that in the 1985-86 campaign, his senior year. At 132 pounds, he dominated the competition, going 28-1 on his way to a League I, Suffolk County and New York State championships.
“There were a lot of great wrestlers from Suffolk County who never got the opportunity to go upstate and even place,” Garone said. “To say that I’m a state champion in New York, a Suffolk County champ, that’s something I’m proud of even 20-something years later.”
From Patchogue-Medford, Garone went to Syracuse University on a full wrestling scholarship and was coached by one of wrestling’s all-time greats, Gene Mills. After two years there, which included a New York State Collegiate championship at 142 pounds, he transferred to Old Dominion. At ODU, Garone placed first at 150 in the Eastern Conference Championships, earning a berth to nationals in Iowa City, Iowa., where he took sixth in his weight and garnered All-America honors.
After college, Garone went on to win numerous tournament championships. He was named an alternate to the 1991 Pan-American Games team, and in winning the Eastern Olympic Trials, advanced to the Olympic Trials. Unfortunately, a torn hamstring suffered mid-match sidelined him for the tournament. He considered but never heavily pursued the 1996 Atlanta Games.
“Wrestling’s hard to do at that level for so many years,” Garone said. “I was mentally and physically burnt out.”
His accomplishments, which included six gold medals at the Empire State Games, weren’t lost on the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame, which elected Garone to its confines last year. Garone went in with Bill Batewell (Sachem/Bellport baseball coach), Will Brown (Miller Place boys basketball), Tom Howard (Bay Shore football coach), Jim McGowan (Bay Shore softball coach), Joe Patrovich (Levittown/Islip/Hauppauge football wrestling coach) and (Patchogue-Medford baseball).
Since giving up competitive wrestling, Garone has worked in conjunction with his brother’s business, Rosemar Construction, based in East Moriches. He also heads X-Cel Worldwide, which promotes boxing prizefights all over the world. That includes 35 dates on ESPN, as well as August’s IBF International heavyweight title bout between Michael Grant and Tomasz Adamek.
Since competing, Garone had been an assistant wrestling coach at Syracuse and Georgia State, and done various clinics and camps around the country, but he gradually gravitated away from wrestling. By taking the head coach position at ESM, he dived right back in.
In six years, Garone’s developed the Sharks into a formidable squad at the Division I level.
“I can’t make you a champion in three months,” Garone said. “You have to do something yourself to do that. You have to buy in. A lot of kids over the last two years, they’ve traveled all around, done off-season tournaments and they want to be good. They want to be the best.”