COLLINGSWOOD — The Buena Regional High School wrestling team huddled in the center of the mat after completing its warmups for a South Jersey Group I match against Collingswood High School on Monday
The Chiefs laid there for a few seconds and then shouted, “Do it for Doug!” before retreating to their bench.
A few feet away, seated in the front row of the visitors’ bleachers, former Buena coach Doug Castellari smiled.
Although his 28-year tenure as the Chiefs’ coach had ended earlier in the day, he wanted to show up and support the team.
“It’s very strange not being on the bench,” said Castellari, who was dismissed by Buena athletic director Dave Albertson on Monday afternoon. “Buena is such a close-knit community and the wrestling team is especially close. I’ve not only coached some of these guys during their high school careers, I’ve been coaching them since they were 8 years old. This is very emotional for me.”
The emotions extended to the wrestlers. They hoped to use Castellari’s presence as motivation to pull out a victory against Collingswood but fell behind quickly and never recovered during a 45-22 loss.
In a release earlier in the day, Albertson said that Castellari was no longer able to “fulfill the responsibilities and obligations” for the job “due to a recent career change.”
Albertson said that current assistant coach George Maxwell will be the head coach for the remainder of the season.
“Despite the untimely coaching transition, Coach Maxwell will guide the team to the NJSIAA team playoffs and the district tournament,” Albertson said in the statement, “and will continue the strong and successful wrestling tradition at Buena Regional High School.”
Castellari emphasized earlier in the day by telephone that he had not resigned as coach.
“I can’t say that because it’s not true,” Castellari said. “That’s not who I am. I’m not going to sit here and lie to you, so I can’t say that I’m resigning.
“I wanted to finish out the year and I thought I deserved that.”
Castellari said he even told school officials he would finish out the year as a volunteer assistant coach but was told that wasn’t an option.
Fourth-seeded Collingswood (22-8) advances to a semifinal meeting with top-seeded Paulsboro on Wednesday. Fifth-seeded Buena (14-4) ended its dual-meet season and now will start preparing for the District 32, Region 8 and state individual championships.
“It was really weird to see Doug sitting over there on the bleachers,” Buena 126-pounder Billy Ward said after the match. “He’s a great coach and an all-around great person. We all look up to Doug as a role model and as a father figure. We tried to use this as motivation, but it just hurt too much. It’s very disappointing to see his coaching career end like this.”
The match started at 170 pounds and Collingswood won the first six bouts to grab a 30-0 lead. Buena 113-pounder Luis Rivera got the Chiefs on the board with a first-period pin.
Sal Marrandino followed with a decision victory, Ward picked up a forfeit win and Chaz Bramble earned a major decision to cut the Chiefs’ deficit to 30-19, but Collingswood’s Shawn Clark and Alex Irwin clinched the win with back-to-back pins at 138 and 145.
Interim coach Maxwell, who both wrestled and coached with Castellari, briefly chatted with him before the match and was clearly upset about the outcome.
“We tried to approach it as just another match, but it was difficult,” Maxwell said. “Doug’s been with this team since my freshman year and he’s really the guy who taught me to love the sport. He’s got a great relationship with everyone involved with the program.”
That relationship was evident when Castellari walked into the gym about a half-hour before the meet wearing a Buena wrestling hoodie and blue Buena baseball cap.
As Castellari strode over to the bleachers, Buena’s fans treated him to a rousing ovation while Ward and the rest of the wrestlers rushed over to give him hugs.
“When I first got here, I was expecting to pay to get in for the first time in years,” Castellari said with a laugh. “But Collingswood’s old coach recognized me and said, ‘No way are you paying to watch.’ ”
Castellari had a tough time acting like a fan instead of a coach. He chomped furiously on a piece of chewing gum throughout the meet and even tried to offer some instructions to a few wrestlers who were struggling.
During the match, the fans repeated the “Do it for Doug” chant while several current and former wrestlers, as well as other competitors and coaches throughout the Cape-Atlantic League and South Jersey started using it as a hashtag on Twitter.
Meeting with AD
Castellari said he was summoned to Albertson’s office around noon Monday and informed that he was being relieved of his duties.
Castellari said that in addition to the family’s farming business, he had recently purchased a FedEx route that encompasses the entire city of Camden but did not anticipate it interfering with his coaching.
He missed last Friday’s match against Hammonton, but he said that was only because the meet was switched from 7 p.m. to 5 p.m. because of foul weather.
“I certainly have no hard feelings for the team,” Castellari said. “I love all those guys. George (Maxwell) has been coaching with me for 15 years and I was his coach from when he was 14 years old. I’m really upset because of the way everything happened.”
Castellari is 10th on South Jersey’s all-time wins list with a 318-152-3 career record and trails only Absegami’s Gene Barber (507) on the Cape-Atlantic League’s all-time list. Castellari coached the Chiefs to 14 CAL National Conference titles (including this season) and was the District 32 co-Coach of the Year in 2011.
Castellari was a two-time state placewinner as a wrestler at Buena before graduating in 1980. He returned as an assistant and then head coach immediately after finishing college.
“This is not a three-month gig for me,” Castellari said. “I do this 12 months out of the year and I’ve done it for 28 years.
“I just thought they could have given me the opportunity to finish out the year.”
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106—Dan Haynes C won by forfeit; 113—Luis Rivera BR p. John Amet 1:49; 120—Sal Marrandino BR d. Donnie Daly 6-3; 126—Billy Ward BR won by forfeit; 132—Chaz Bramble BR md. Zane Chunko 10-0; 138—Shawn Clark C p. Travis Thompson :59; 145—Alex Irwin C p. Mason Vrestle 2:58 ; 152—Jarett Pierotti BR d. Ayaz Ali 5-2; 160—Forrey Gumby C d. Kris Albert 1-0; *170—Mike Campbell C d. Elijah Brown 9-3; 182—Bill Crowley C p. Joe Fabrizio 4:24; 195—Pat Miles C p. Nick Sherman 1:01; 220—John Deaner C p. Nick Caporale 5:54; 285—Paul Lunney C d. Ty Warren 4-3.
Records—Buena 12-4; Collingswood 22-8.
*Match began at this weight