SIMPSONVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – A dual well over a decade in the making brought hundreds of Upstate wrestling fans to Hillcrest High School last Thursday to witness two of the best programs in the state compete.
When Wrestlers in Business, a non-profit networking group, approached Hillcrest’s Anthony Esposito with the idea of scheduling a dual match between the Rams and Eastside, it was an easy choice for the second-year head coach.
“I contacted coach Kosmicki and I think within four seconds he said ‘yes let’s do it,’” Espositio said. “I started hearing a lot of buzz about it and people were like ‘yeah I really want to see this.’”
While Esposito is in just his second year the helm, he had been a part of the program as an assistant for nearly a decade. He and Eastside Head Coach Jack Kosmicki share more than just a passion for wrestling. Both are from New York and have a deep motivation to grow the sport in South Carolina. So far they’ve carved out reputations as the teams to beat in the Upstate.
“Well on the local level it’s pretty simple. It’s the two biggest kids on the block,” said Kosmicki.
The Eagles coach of 27 years emphasized that both programs were in it to win, but also acknowledged the event was bigger than just the two teams competing.
“For the sport, for South Carolina, it’s a win/win. For the Upstate, it’s a win/win.”
“If two of the best programs can get together [then] it’s not even about the wrestling at that point,” Esposito added. “It’s about the atmosphere.”
Both programs have competed over the years at county matches, but never in an individual dual match, making this the first in fifteen years.
Fans packed the stands in Hillcrest’s gym with their thunder sticks and team apparel, ready to cheer on the Eagles and the Rams. The environment was important to the two coaches, who recognize the impact it can have on the younger generation of athletes.
“If you can bring them to events like this and they see how exciting it is and they see how many fans show up I think we’re going to have a better retention rate which will grow the sport in the future,” said Esposito.
The highly anticipated dual featured the three-time defending 5A champs in Hillcrest up against the six-time defending 4A champs in Eastside. And they’re optimistic that this meeting will become an annual event.
“It’s going to be an amazing night that you can’t not have every year if you want to grow the sport,” said Kosmicki, who’s won 16 titles in 27 years at Eastside. “Every match is going to be a scrap, it’s going to be a fight. The crowd’s going to be into it for both sides.”
Eastside came away victorious in the final match, winning 38-31. But as Kosmicki said, it was a win/win for the sport of wrestling in South Carolina.