Reporter Mike Beam contributed to this article.
The Pirates wrestling team staged a comeback fit for a hero on Sean Cullen Memorial Night against Rancocas Valley, 39-28 to move to 3-2 on the year.
With the pain of Cullen’s loss still felt among family, friends, former classmates, coaches and school officials; the wrestling community did its best to lend a healing hand Monday night.
Thousands packed the new gymnasium at Cinnaminson High School to honor the man who lived his life much like he wrestled matches; giving 110 percent all the time in all he did.
“The other coaches did a great job of making sure the kids were here and ready to wrestle,” Cinnaminson head coach Mike McConnell said.
“They didn’t set foot in this area, they stayed on the back gym and focused on the match. I don’t think they felt additional pressure, but maybe different excitement.”
Cullen, a 2003 graduate of Cinnaminson High School, died in the line of duty serving the state of New Jersey as a trooper in March of 2016.
Cullen was honored before, during and after tonight’s memorial match, which will become a yearly event according to McConnell.
“When I was a senior, Sean was a freshman,” McConnell said. “He wrestled with a lot of heart. His incredible family was at every match supporting not only him, but the entire program.”
“He was a great person to know and to call friend. It was a big loss to the wrestling community when he passed, but we’re happy to remember him for all the good he did when he was here.”
The Red Devils jumped out to an early 13-0 lead, but the Pirates never gave up; a trait that endeared Cullen to so many in his life.
On the night the Pirates and Red Devils honored Cullen, the first in program history to 100 wins on the mat, senior Keith Swartley joined the club with a pin.
“It feels good. I was supposed to get it on Saturday, but the snow canceled it,” Swartley said.
“I wasn’t necessarily upset when they canceled it because I knew I could get it on the same day we honored Sean.”
“Keith was nervous about it,” McConnell said. “Once we realized it wasn’t going to happen this weekend, it just so happened that Keith’s 100th win was on the same night we honored Sean, who was the first here to get 100 wins. To be able to do it on a night like tonight was something special for everyone here to see.”
The Pirates began their rally when Khalid Zeidieh won his bout at 138 pounds to put the Pirates on the board with their first points of the night.
A 3-0 win by Shane Spence at 160 pounds gave the Pirates their first lead of the match at 16-13 and 16 unanswered points.
Consecutive pins by Tyler Addlesberger at 195 pounds, Andrew Halecki at 220 pounds and Swartley at 285 pounds put the Pirates in the driver’s seat with just two bouts remaining.
“I was trying to work a double leg, but he kept backing off of that,” Addlesberger said. “He had decent defense, but was off-balance so I took advantage of that and finished.”
“It was definitely a lot of fun. It was an honor to wrestle for Trooper Sean Cullen. I believe Cinnaminson wrestling showed our appreciation to the Cullen family with this win.”
Mike Florkowski secured the comeback victory with a 17-2 tech fall at 106 pounds.
“We are a young team. We gotta stay healthy,” McConnell said. “I’m happy with how the guys responded to big pressure situations tonight because there’s going to be more of them in the coming weeks with districts, regions and states.”
Cinnaminson moves to 3-2 on the season and has won five straight matches against Rancocas Valley dating back to the 2011-2012 season.
The Pirates last loss to the Red Devils on the mat came in the 2010-2011 season. The match between the two teams was canceled last year.
The Pirates travel to Bordentown Wednesday, January 11 for a Patriot Division match at 6pm.
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