Mike Caiazza has done just about everything there is to do in the sport of wrestling, but his latest venture may surprise some people.
Caiazza was an accomplished wrestler during his career at Oakcrest High School and West Chester University. He went on to coach at Egg Harbor Township and is the second winningest coach in Cape-Atlantic League history.
The South Jersey Wrestling Hall of Fame member retired from teaching and coaching last season after 30 years and more than 350 wins, but he wasn’t ready to step away from the sport entirely.
So he traded in his clipboard for a whistle and pinstripes.
Caiazza has officiated about 10 high school varsity matches this year as well as a couple of youth tournaments and matches.
The irony is that by his own admission, Caiazza was known to give officials a hard time on occasion. By all accounts, Caiazza is one of the kindest, most sincere people in the sport, but some officials may have a hard time believing that.
Caiazza passionately supported his student athletes on and off the mat, and if that meant arguing a bad call, then so be it.
“I’ve been the worst guy,” Caiazza said with a laugh. “My job wasn’t anything about what they were doing out there. It was just that if I could help score a point for one of my kids, then that was what I was all about.”
Caiazza actually became certified to officiate about 30 years ago, but with his busy schedule as a high school coach wasn’t able to officiate very often.
He said he originally became a ref to help him as a coach.
“I took it to kind of enhance my coaching,” Caiazza said. “You just want to know all the innuendos and what they are thinking. You need to know that stuff, because it helps when you are coaching and any advantage you get, you jump on.”
Fellow refs joke with Caiazza and give him a hard time when they see him.
“I’ve gotten that for 30 years,” Caiazza joked. “Any time I have ever gone to an officials meeting, I get shunned. Guys look the other way. Nobody talks to me and I don’t blame them. The way I have been in the corner? I can’t blame them.”
Buddy Treen is the high school and youth assigner for the Southern Shore Chapter of the New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association. He was also an assistant coach for Caiazza for 13 years at Egg Harbor Township.
“In wrestling, you have to anticipate the moves,” Treen said. “If you’ve never wrestled, you can’t anticipate what the kids are setting up, and then you’re out of position. Mike was a very good high school wrestler and he wrestled in college. His knowledge of the sport is outstanding and he is a very good referee.”
Treen said Caiazza’s experience in the sport helps him as an official.
“As a coach, Mike was very intense,” Treen said. “He is very knowledgeable, very technical. He knew how to teach and motivate the kids. He was an outstanding coach. As a referee, he knows the rules. He understands how to referee and he does a great job.”
Caiazza will not be working the district or region tournaments. He said he would prefer to wait a year or two until he is a little further removed from his active role as a coach.
He even said he would love to one day work the state tournament at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City “if they allow wheelchairs on the mat.”
Caiazza said he truly misses coaching. He misses the camaraderie and the influence that coaches have in the lives of young student athletes. Caiazza even misses the day to day of running practices and the interaction with his wrestlers but said that officiating is a good way to stay involved on some level.
“It’s a good way to stay active in the sport,” Caiazza said. “It wasn’t about reffing when I first got into it, but now I feel that I know the sport from both sides of the spectrum.
“I think I can officiate a little better than some of the guys that have just been on the reffing side. I can understand the human side of it.”
Caiazza and his wife, Eileen, will have been married for 30 years come April. Caiazza said he has enjoyed being able to stay home and cook dinner for his wife. He also enjoys playing with the family’s 12-week-old Australian shepherd, Marley.
“That’s why I praise my wife for all the years of putting up with this stuff,” Caiazza said. “She’s been around it since the start, and it is kind of as tough on her right now as it is for me because that’s all we’ve ever known. It’s been crazy but it was good.”