St. John's Prep wrestling coach Manny Costa considers himself rich in a way perhaps only members of the coaching profession understand.
“I tell everyone I know that you don't coach for the salary; you coach for the memories and I am a billionaire for the experiences,” said Costa, who will be inducted into the New England Wrestling Hall of Fame Saturday during the New England Tournament at Hill House High School in New Haven, Conn.
“This is humbling, to say the least. I am so thankful to every wrestler that has stepped onto the SJP mat,” said Costa, specifically thanking his first three captains: Ben Ring (West Point), Jon Ranalli (Ithaca) and Erin Sullivan (Annapolis). “I cannot put into words the feeling of being acknowledged as one of the best coaches in New England history.”
Since Costa's arrival in 1990, the Eagles have been a New England power. His career record stands at 451-126-5 (23-5-1 for this year) and the Eagles' undefeated senior 140-pound State Champion T.J. Crabtree is gunning for a New England title.
Costa's highlight reel at the Prep
- Career record of 451-126-5
- 2011 State Champion T.J. Crabtree
- 1991 Division One North Coach of the Year
- 1992 State Champion Ben Ring, the first of 21 individual champions
- 16 Catholic Conference championships, 1995 team was first
- Three-time State Champion Nathan Cote finished 58-0 as a senior, earning All-American and Academic All-American accolades
- Four-time State and two-time New England Champion Mike Pedro was 61-0 as a senior, numbered 154 pins among his State record 213 career victories and was All-American
- Two-time State Champion and New England Champion Ryan Malo earned All-American recognition after his 58-0 senior season
- 2002-03 club set State records by sending 14 wrestlers to and having 10 placers at the State Tournament
- 2000 State Champion Nathan Rabbitt
- Every team has received MIAA Gold Medal for Academic Achievement
- 1997 squad of 45 had cumulative GPA of 3.95
Costa grew up in Peabody (Peabody High, '83), resides in Danvers and has served with the Peabody Police Department since 1989. After two years as a volunteer assistant, he learned the SJP head coaching job was vacant in October 1990 from Steve Ring, father of then-junior Ben Ring.
“Steve explained the team was without a coach and asked if I would apply for the job. I spoke with Brother Drinan, who asked how much I would need in salary. I told him I would do it for free and he stated 'hold that thought,' pulled a contract from his desk and asked me to sign. I owe many thanks to both Steve Ring and Brother Drinan for allowing a 23-year-old the opportunity,” Costa said.
A successful international Judo competitor, Costa placed fourth at the Junior World Championships, was a gold medalist at the 1983 Pan-Am Games and an alternate for the 1988 Olympics. His disciplined approach translated well to the wrestling mat as the Eagles took flight immediately. He was the Division One North Coach of the Year when his inaugural team became the first in program history to have a winning record, had its highest Sectional finish ever (fourth) and had six wrestlers place in the Sectionals.
Costa cited Nathan Rabbitt, the 2000 State Champion at 160 pounds, as perhaps the toughest he's ever coached.
“He wrestled the entire season with a torn ACL. He tore it on the first Wednesday of the season [but] he participated in every practice and every meet that season. He had incredible heart and toughness,” Costa marveled.
On Jan. 2, 1999 the Eagles defeated the teams of Hall of Fame coaches George Bossi (Lowell) and Phil Tomkeil (Agawam), making Costa quite likely the only individual to have ever topped both legends on the same day.
Consistency and tradition are program staples. With few exceptions, SJP's wrestlers have no experience with the sport until high school and many take it up only after having been cut from another team. Six captains began wrestling as sophomores, five began after being dropped from other squads and only three of this year's 50 team members arrived at SJP with wrestling experience.
“I feel that discipline and hard work win. When you have discipline, you strive for more, then when you reach that level, you demand even more,” said Costa, who has had three former wrestlers, including current assistant Dave Blais, coach under him. “The success of the program allows current wrestlers a goal to achieve; no one wants to be the team that loses the conference or has a losing season. So, they find a way to get it done.”
Lest anyone think this award is the capper to Costa's career, he's not going anywhere. Son Jared was the Eagles' freshman starter at 125 pounds. Son Hunter is a seventh-grader who will also attend the Prep.
“So, I am planning on at least five more years at this time. This, of course, is up to the administration of St. John's if they allow me to continue to coach at the Prep,” Costa said.
It doesn't seem like that should be an issue.