Former Middletown Wrestler Perry Making Mark At Bloomsburg

By NICK GREENE, ngreene@courant.com The Hartford Courant

4:09 p.m. EST, February 25, 2014

Before he ever got on the mat, Bloomsburg University senior wrestler Rich Perry knew about tough and relentless competitors.

Middletown wrestling coach Mark Fong was one, and he constantly tried to get Perry on his team.

Perry is 29-1 this season with five pins wrestling at 197 pounds for Bloomsburg University. And with an eighth-place finish or better in the Division I wrestling championships March 20-22 in Oklahoma City, Perry would become just the fourth Connecticut wrestler to earn Division I All-America honors.

“Did I think he’d be where he is now — no,” said Fong. “It is really rare for a kid from Connecticut or even New England for that matter; it is extremely rare. For Rich to qualify for the [NCAA] tournament is a remarkable feat. I guarantee no one in that tournament has started as late as he did.”

Coming into high school, Fong described Perry as a potential “at risk youth.” Perry joined the Middletown High football team, where his path crossed with an assistant coach named Fong.

Perry and Fong bonded on the football field and Fong saw wrestling as means to continue their relationship. But getting Perry to buy into the idea of wrestling became a match of wills.

“He was very persistent, constantly planting that seed that [I] can be very good and do some really good things in the sport,” Perry said. “Every time I saw him he’d suggest it to me.”

Perry finally gave in.

“I made a deal with him: if you stop asking — I’ll come out my junior year. I came out and never looked back,” Perry said.

Perry went on to finish third at the Class LL tournament as a junior in his first year in the sport, then won the Class LL and State Open titles as a senior. Perry then spent a year at the Hyde School in Woodstock where he placed in the prep nationals.

Despite his fast rise, Perry wasn’t recruited for wrestling coming out of Middletown and Hyde. He became proactive in seeking out schools, stumbling across Bloomsburg. Interested in Sacred Heart University, Perry was checking out the wrestling team’s results when he saw the Pioneers were throttled by the Huskies. He contacted Bloomsburg and 10 minutes later his phone rang; it was Bloomsburg.

“Up until I committed to Bloomsburg, I thought I’d play football in college,” he said. “I thought about it and prayed about it and I was really happy with my wrestling success, but I wasn’t satisfied … it made me really hungry to go after wrestling.”

After a redshirt season, Perry looked like a seasoned veteran. He won 77 (12 pins) matches with just 27 losses in his first three seasons, winning three tournament titles as a junior. Perry’s only loss this season was to fifth-ranked Travis Rutt of Oklahoma, a loss he avenged in mid-February. His overall record is 106-28, 14th on the Huskies’ all-time win list.

“As good as an athlete as Rich is and just the way he feels about the sport; it is pretty amazing that he has only been around the sport for seven years versus guys who’ve been wrestling most of their lives,” Bloomsburg coach Jason Mester said.

Perry is determined to not only join John Engel (Stamford, Lehigh), Orville Palmer (Middletown, University of Oklahoma) and Jim Guzzio (Hand-Madison, University of Maryland) as the only Connecticut wrestlers to earn Division I All-America honors, but to join Engel as the state’s only national champions.

“I’m confident, I’m capable,” said Perry. “I’ve wrestled the best in the country, not only this year, but two years ago I wrestled Cael Sanderson [current Penn State coach and Olympic goal medalist)] I had the opportunity to stand across from him, and I walked away and he didn’t kill me. Why can’t I compete with these guys now?”

Said Mester, “He is going to be [a] national champion from Connecticut. His goals are that exactly. He is ready to win that thing, anybody ranked ahead of him can lose. He just needs to keep doing what he does … that’s all he has got to do: keep doing what he is doing.”

And it all started seven years ago with a push from Fong.

“I just think about all the people who’ve supported me and my dream of becoming a national champion,” said Perry. “That’s what I’m pushing for, to get to the top of podium for all the people who’ve helped me, sacrificed with me, my family, I’m engaged now and have a daughter — everyone. I don’t miss a name or a face, they all go through my head. They all motivate me and push me.”

http://www.courant.com/sports/college/hc-college-wrestling-feature-0226-20140225,0,2640837.story

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