Catholic Central’s traditional ‘assembly match’ is a treat for students and wrestling fans

Michael Cannon stares down his Lowell opponent, Logan Dawson, in the first round of the 138-pound match of the “assembly dual” held Wednesday afternoon at the school in Novi. Catholic Central traditionally begins its wrestling season by hosting a match for the entire school population to see. (Photos by Wright Wilson | Special to Detroit Catholic)

NOVI — Novi Detroit Catholic Central’s top-ranked wrestling program didn’t get to its current level by taking on ordinary challenges.

So when the Shamrocks — defending Division 1 team state champions and owners of nine titles since 2010 — opened their dual meet season on Wednesday, they raised the bar about as high as it could get.

They held their match at 1:45 p.m. — during the school day, when the entire Catholic Central student body could pack the gym to watch. They turned off the overhead lights, save for some blue spotlights. They turned on the smoke machines when the athletes marched into the competition area. They blasted walk-out songs to hype up each wrestler for his match. Cameras projected the action on thy gym’s giant video screen, and the entire event was also broadcast via livestream.

And if that wasn’t enough, Catholic Central clashed with Lowell — the top-ranked team in Division 2, which has won the team championship in each of the past 10 seasons.

No pressure at all, right?

Holding the “assembly dual” during the school day enabled the Catholic Central gym to be packed to the rafters with a partisan crowd of students.
Holding the “assembly dual” during the school day enabled the Catholic Central gym to be packed to the rafters with a partisan crowd of students.

Actually, the Shamrock wrestlers thrive on the ambiance created for the annual “Mike Rodriguez Assembly Match” which starts each season.

“It’s a great tradition that we’ve done for a very long time,” said Mason Stewart, a returning state runner-up. “It’s something special that we get a good team to come out here in this type of environment. Not a lot of people get to wrestle in an atmosphere like this. A lot of people, up until college, don’t have that many people watch them wrestle.”

“It’s exciting. There’s nowhere else you’ll get this kind of atmosphere,” said Darius Marines, a senior who’s seeking his fourth individual state championship this winter. “When I was in middle school, this was something I knew they did, and it’s one of the things that intrigued me about this program was the fact that they could get 2,000 people in here, all around the wrestling mat.

“I just like the camaraderie and I like the excitement that comes with that,” he continued. “I love wrestling, I love our team, I love our coaching staff — I live for this.”

Rodriguez, the hall-of-fame coach who guided the Shamrocks to seven state crowns and 18 Catholic League titles, created the event in the early 1970s. It’s now emulated by other schools around the country.

“Coach Rodriguez started this years and years ago — kids would come watch the assembly dual and they’d be on the wrestling team the next day,” assistant coach Anthony Biondo said. “It’s a community thing — it’s more a Detroit Catholic Central thing than just our wrestlers or just our coaches. The whole student body likes it; our administration does a fantastic job. They’re competitive matches and our student body is really into it. An opponent as good as Lowell is always good to have come in. Hat’s off to them. This is not an easy environment for 14-, 15-, 16- or 17-year-olds to perform in.”

Under the glare of the blue spotlights, Catholic Central head wrestling coach Mitch Hancock gives instructions to his wrestler in the middle of a match.
Under the glare of the blue spotlights, Catholic Central head wrestling coach Mitch Hancock gives instructions to his wrestler in the middle of a match.

“This is just what we do — we like the competition,” Marines said. “This is probably the toughest team, as far as Michigan goes, that we’ll get all year, and this is the first dual. We take adversity head-on; we don’t run from anything.”

With two elite teams going at it, most of the 14 matches on Wednesday went the distance and pins were few. Catholic Central won seven of the first eight classes to open up a 24-6 lead, but only one of those wins was via fall, when reigning state champion Connor Bercume pinned his 215-pound counterpart from Lowell.

The visiting Red Arrows closed the gap to 27-18 by taking the next three weight classes on two decisions and a pin, until Marines’ late pin at 165 pounds clinched the overall victory for the Shamrocks.

“I knew that getting those six points sealed the meet, so that was the goal,” Marines said. “It was 15-2 with 30 seconds left, so I either would have got the tech(-nical fall), which is five points, or the pin, which is six. I just went for the pin and I got it. I knew that hyped the guys up.”

Catholic Central’s Grayson Fuchs rides Lowell’s Connor Cichocki on the way to winning his 124-pound match, giving the Shamrocks an early 21-6 lead over the Red Arrows.
Catholic Central’s Grayson Fuchs rides Lowell’s Connor Cichocki on the way to winning his 124-pound match, giving the Shamrocks an early 21-6 lead over the Red Arrows.
Catholic Central’s Drew Brewer attempts to roll Lowell’s Trevor Boone on to his back during the 144-pound bout.
Catholic Central’s Drew Brewer attempts to roll Lowell’s Trevor Boone on to his back during the 144-pound bout.

The final score was 33-21 in Catholic Central’s favor. Besides Marines, Bercume and Stewart — who are each ranked No. 1 in state for their individual weight classes this season — other CC winners included Lee Krueger, Benny Eziuka, Wyatt Lees, Mack Moscovic, Grayson Fuchs and Simon Dominguez.

And no one seemed to be enjoying the action more than Rodriguez, who was perched on a folding chair just off the edge of the mat.

“It’s special for the kids, because they know that when you’re bringing people from all around the state, they want to go out there and show the people what they can do,” he said. “It’s an awesome sport. You can develop your manhood, but you have to learn how to compete. You find what God has put in your body and you fight to prove it. This sport is a proving sport.”



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