PV holds spring signing ceremony, wrestler continues unlikely journey

Roger Williams University signee takes part in spring signing ceremony

Senior+AJ+Menendez+attempts+to+score+on+his+opponent.+Menendez+along+with+eight+other+athletes+participated+in+Pascack+Valley%27s+Spring+Signing+Ceremony+on+Wed.+May+20.

Contributed by AJ Menendez

Senior AJ Menendez attempts to score on his opponent. Menendez along with eight other athletes participated in Pascack Valley's Spring Signing Ceremony on Wed. May 20.

BJ McGrane, Sports Editor

A signing ceremony to honor the senior athletes continuing their athletic careers in college was held Wed. May 20. Amid the pandemic, the ceremony was held while still maintaining social distancing.

With the spring sports season and many other events cancelled due to the pandemic, there was uncertainty on whether or not the athletes would be able to participate in the ceremony.

AJ Menendez did not expect to participate in the ceremony at all, regardless of the pandemic.

Menendez did not expect to still be wrestling in his senior year, let alone continuing his wrestling career at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island.

“Going into high school, I didn’t like wrestling too much,” Menendez said. “High school has changed my opinion on wrestling to the point where it’s one of those things I cannot really live without.”

“Through hard work and a commitment to the sport of wrestling, AJ accomplished some great things,” coach Tom Gallione said. “Seeing where his high school career began to how it finished, it puts a smile on my face.”

Being one of nine athletes to participate in the ceremony, the safety of the Menendez family, as well as the eight other families, was ensured by Pascack Valley so that the risk of contracting the coronavirus would be minimized.

Nine senior athletes participated in Pascack Valley’s Spring Signing Ceremony. The ceremony was held outdoors while maintaining social distancing. (BJ McGrane)

Usually held indoors, the signing ceremony has been quite simple in years past. Athletes, their families, and their coaches are invited to the auditorium, and the athletes officially sign to the college they will attend. Photos of each athlete with their family and their coach are taken. These photos are followed by a group photo in which all the athletes and coaches take a photo together.

To lessen the risk of anyone contracting the coronavirus, and to maintain social distancing, Pascack Valley took measures such as using different chairs for the athletes to sit in, and different pens for the athletes to use for signing.

Pascack Valley took measures to maintain social distancing at the 2020 Spring Signing Ceremony. (BJ McGrane)

“[The ceremony] definitely had a different feel this year with regards to the pandemic,” Gallione said.

“They didn’t want [my family] lingering around and hanging out with the other families,” Menendez said.

In a year flooded with what-ifs and maybes for the seniors, Pascack Valley was able to provide one opportunity for the seniors to celebrate all they have accomplished.

“I was really happy that they were able to make something happen, and I was able to get my signing day,” Menendez said. “It was one of the better feelings of my senior year, which has been an all-around disappointment, but [the ceremony] was one of the bright spots.”

“It was a great atmosphere and experience for the athletes, families and coaches,” Gallione said.

This “feeling” is especially important to Menendez, who never believed he would make it this far in his wrestling career. It took some time for him to realize his love and his passion for the sport.

“[In my] freshman year, I was not even sure I was going to be wrestling senior year,” Menendez said. “Junior year really did hammer the point home that I have to stick with wrestling. It’s the sport I do love the most. It’s the sport I’m better at, and it’s the sport I have more passion [for].”

Menendez started to see some of his hard work pay off towards the end of his junior year, and he continued to see success throughout his senior year.

“[Menendez] made the district finals as the eighth seed last season,” Gallione said. “[He] placed in the BCCA [County] Tournament this year, as well as becoming a district champion this year and qualifying for the regional tournament.”

Menendez decided that attending Roger Williams University was a no-brainer after he took part in its “prospect day”. Menendez was taken on a tour of the university, participated in a wrestling practice, and was able to have a Q&A session with some of its wrestlers. After this visit, it became clear to Menendez that Rhode Island is where he wanted to spend his next four years.

“This school, this program, really does care about their wrestlers,” Menendez said. “I one hundred percent wanted to go there. So, when I got the acceptance letter, it was not even a second thought. I knew I was going there, one hundred percent.”

After not being able to wrestle for the last few months, Menendez is looking forward to getting back to the sport he loves.

“It’s been so long since I’ve been on the mat. I just want to be able to get back on the mat, do some takedowns,” Menendez said. “Just [doing] the stuff I love the most about this sport.”

Years ago, Menendez was unsure if he would wrestle throughout high school. Now, he is getting ready for a new challenge: continuing his career in college.

“As a coach, it is great to see a young man achieve his goals. Student athletes like AJ are the reason I coach,” Gallione said. “Now, I’m excited to see what he will accomplish at Roger Williams University.”