• Central's success story continues to grow 


    "They're just a bunch of football players." "Yeah, they've got great athletes, but they're not wrestlers." "Those kids, they'll eventually quit the team." 

    In just three years of existence, the Bridgeport Central wrestling team has heard all the critics. 

    Overcoming obstacles and changing perceptions have become routine for coach Ted Oczkowski's Hilltoppers, who own a 22-1 record and are ranked No. 7 in the state. 

    Central's close-knit core of seniors, who most will admit did take up the sport to stay in shape for football, have opened up many eyes across the state, despite having no wrestling experience prior to high school and being forced to practice in the school's cafeteria. 

    "I wanted to stay in shape for football and try something new," senior Wigberto Diaz said. "We just happened to get pretty good at it." 

    Pretty good is an understatement. With wins this season over Fairfield and Conard, the Hilltoppers are proving to everyone that they are more than just great athletes. 

    "Most of the teams we met have six or seven years of experience and didn't take us too seriously," senior Brandon Abner said. "They do now." 

    After an early loss to top-ranked Danbury, the Hilltoppers have reeled off a number of impressive victories, the biggest over Fairfield, which was ranked No. 3 in the state at the time. 

    "Until Fairfield, I always thought that we had to wrestle our best in every match to win,"Oczkowski said. "I still feel that way, but now I know our opponent has to wrestle their best to have a chance to beat us." 

    The Hilltoppers get contributions from everyone in their lineup, but count on their seniors Diaz (215), Abner (160), Niko Filippakis (125), Mike Rodriguez (189), Donald Abrahams (171), Adrian Green (125), Xavier Sanchez (275) and Dave Paniccia (275) to lead by example. 

    "They took their lumps in the beginning," Oczkowski said, "But, they've made it easier for the underclassmen to succeed by showing them the learning process that they've had to go through." 

    The younger guys like William White (145), Michael Cobb (152), Josh Trujillo (103), Andre Walker (112) and Ray Cruz (130) have all made major contributions, even in a rare defeat by avoiding pins and gaining points for the team. 

    The bulk of their roster competes together in football and track, and has used the lessons learned in athletics to improve themselves as students and people. 

    "Coach O told us we could beat people up and get away with it," Filippakis said. "But seriously, wrestling has helped me academically and physically. I manage my time better for schoolwork and it has put me in great shape." 

    For Oczkowski, being ranked in the state poll is nice, but not as important as having the team wrestling its best at the FCIAC and CIAC meet. 

    "I don't care about the polls and I don't care about winning the league or the state (championship)" Oczkowski said. "I want to be able to look at each guy after it is all over and say, Congratulations, you got what you worked hard for and deserved.' " 

    Whatever the outcome, the future is bright for the program and the bar has been set high by this group of seniors. 

    "I have a very high anxiety level that we are going to have to do this all the time," Oczkowski said. "We've set a standard and now we have to maintain it." Emmett Spillane