Keeping a wrestling program successful can be a tough task in itself. Establishing it as a national powerhouse is another story, in John Gardner’s case, he accomplished both this season.
The 13th-year head coach led High Point (No. 19) to a 23-2 record while guiding it to a State Group 3 championship, a North 1, Group 3 title, a District 3 crown and a NJAC American Division first-place finish. He also helped eight of his 14 grapplers reach the state individual tournament in Atlantic City, where they walked away with four gold medals, a bronze and a sixth-place showing to become not only the best team in New Jersey, but also a top 25 program in the U.S.
The 2011 Herald Coach of the Year accomplished all this by challenging his crew at all times.
“He makes sure we work hard each and every day,” High Point senior Joe Gaccione said. “We do a lot of different things than other teams and I think it has a lot to do with him just keeping the tradition going from when he was in high school.” Gardner learned this coaching style during his days as a state-champion wrestler under legendary Wildcats coach Jeff Hull and current assistant Mickey Thomas from 1987-90. In addition, he spent a lot of time with the High Point wrestling pioneers off the mat, shadowing every detail about the sport from wrestling techniques to researching quality teams all for one great purpose.