In sports, as in life, a coach’s value doesn’t always show up in a box score.
Sometimes you have to dig deeper, look beyond the victories and defeats, to get the truest measure of success.
Tim Mancuso, who recently retired as Atlantic City High School’s wrestling coach, never had a winning dual-meet record in his 11 seasons. In most years, he had trouble fielding more than half of the 14 weight classes.
Yet he was regarded as one of the top coaches in the area. The Atlantic City resident was honored for his dedication and commitment to the sport by the South Jersey Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association this month.
“It was very humbling,” said Mancuso, who will continue to teach at the Texas Avenue School in Atlantic City. “It meant a lot.”
Mancuso, 59, initially oversaw a youth wrestling program, then moved up to the high school level when he took over at his alma mater, Holy Spirit, in the 2005-06 season, when his son Mac was a freshman.
A year later, he guided two wrestlers to the state individual championships at Boardwalk Hall. Mac, now a Spartans assistant coach, won a state championship that season at 189 pounds as a sophomore. Freshman Sean Boylan finished second at 103.
In some ways, he experienced more success after becoming Atlantic City’s coach in 2007-08. The Vikings’ wrestling program had folded in April 1990 after 31 years. The bulk of the kids who came out for the team that first year back had no experience. Their idea of wrestling was the WWE version.
Practices were conducted in Atlantic City’s football locker rooms. Mancuso enlisted the help of former local wrestlers such as state champions Cory and Justin Bird, Jeff Black (now a Vikings assistant coach) and Jack Corcoran.
“We spent the first few weeks teaching the kids how to sprawl (to fight off takedowns),” Mancuso said. “We taught them one move, a front headlock into a cement mixer. It wasn’t until later that they learned how to shoot (diving at an opponents legs to get a takedown).”
The following season, they Vikings earned their first varsity win since that 1989-90 season with a 42-39 victory over Overbrook. Scott Heath clinched the win with a pin in the final bout of the match. And he did it with a cement mixer.
To get them as much experience as possible, Mancuso would take his wrestlers to summer tournaments all over South Jersey. He’d leave his house at 5 a.m., drive all over the city to pick up the kids at their houses and frequently would not get home until 11 p.m.
Many of the wrestlers also had jobs, which made attendance difficult.
“I remember one time I picked up a kid for a tournament at the Knife and Fork (restaurant),” he said with a laugh. “We get to the tournament and the kid asks me, ‘What time is this going to be over?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, why?’ and he said, ‘because I have to go to work when we’re done.’”
With experience came individual accomplishments. A lack of depth prevented the Vikings from excelling in dual meets, but they thrived once the state individual competitions began.
Julio Matos-Nunez won a district title in 2011. Two years later, Cesar Balmaceda won a title. Balmaceda and Joe Cutugno qualified for the state championships in 2013 and 2014, respectively, and barely missed placing.
Balmaceda was perhaps the best example of Mancuso’s impact on the program.
Balmaceda was raised by his paternal grandmother, Ligia Hiraki, and relatives in Atlantic City after his mother died of breast cancer when Cesar was just 3 months old. When he was 6, his father was deported to Nicaragua after a series of legal troubles.
Cesar nearly dropped out of high school but decided to try out for the wrestling team as a sophomore on the advice of a friend.
He was living with his grandmother when their first-floor apartment was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy his senior year.
Mancuso was there for him.
“I can’t say enough good things about Coach Mancuso,” Balmaceda said. “He was always there for me, taking me to all those tournaments, always ready to help. When my washing machine broke, he took my clothes and washed them for me. He was like the father I never had.”
Balmaceda, 24, is the Cage Fury Fighting Championships interim lightweight champion. He’ll defend his title May 17 at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.
Chances are, Mancuso will be there.
He’ll always be in Balmaceda’s corner, just as he was for dozens of other wrestlers, both on and off the mat.
Those are the victories that count the most.
David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.