St. Augustine Prep hired a familiar figure on the Cape-Atlantic League wrestling scene to be its new head coach.
The school announced Thursday that 1985 St. Augustine graduate and longtime Buena Regional assistant coach Billy Ward Sr. will take over as head coach for next season.
"We're very excited as a school," St. Augustine athletic director Dennis Foreman said in a phone interview. "Billy is behind the wrestling program 100 percent. We're excited to see how he handles this new responsibility."
Ward, 45, of Buena Borough, wrestled in the 1980s at St. Augustine under coach Bob Malatesta, finishing second in the state at 148 pounds. He wrestled at Drexel University and was a two-year captain for the Dragons. Most recently, he was an assistant at Buena Regional for 20 years under head coach Doug Castellari.
Foreman said that Ward stood out among the many applicants for the position.
"We were very fortunate to have some of the unbelievable candidates that applied and interviewed," Foreman said. "Billy was one of them. At the end of the day, we were confident in Billy. As a Prep graduate, he's familiar with our culture and the sacrifices of students, as well as travel and academics."
Ward said he always wanted to be a head coach.
"Something always came up that was either family related or it just wasn't a good fit before," Ward said. "When the opportunity arose this time, it fit into our schedule."
The Hermits finished 21-9 last season and were ranked 10th in The Press Elite 11 final rankings. They lost to Christian Brothers Academy in the South Jersey Non-Public A championship match.
Ward says he will use the experience he has gained from his years around the sport.
"I learned basically from one of the most respected coaches around," Ward said of Castellari. "I was pretty involved over the years in all aspects of being a head coach even though I wasn't (one). I feel I'm more than ready to be a head coach."
The move comes just two weeks after St. Augustine announced it would not bring back Joe Melchiore, 46, who had been the Hermits' coach for the last four seasons.
"Melchiore left me in a great position," Ward said. "The team that he has left me is pretty talented. The incoming freshmen are talented, probably one of the best incoming classes, I'm very fortunate to be taking over right now."
Ward added that he coached some of the current Hermits in youth leagues.
Foreman said that Ward will be formally introduced to the team and parents on July 10 at a captains practice. Foreman said he has begun to assemble an assistant staff.
"Billy is very connected in the wrestling community, which is a tight-knit group," Foreman said. "He has coached at the youth and high school levels and had success. He also runs a structured practice (that) I think will be very successful with our kids."
Ward's son Billy Ward Jr. is a standout wrestler at Buena Regional and three-time Press first team All Star. Ward Sr. said his son will remain at Buena for his senior year.
"That part of it won't be fun," Ward said of a possible match against his son. "That will be difficult. But we talked about it and he's happy for me. If he didn't want me to do it, I wouldn't have done it. But he knows I've always wanted to be a head coach."
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