While B.A. Schoen may be receiving recognition for “Lifetime Service to Wrestling”, he sees it differently; “Wrestling’s lifetime service to B.A. Schoen.”
“Wrestling has given me so much more than I could ever give it”, says B.A. “It has impacted positively on just about every aspect of my life and taught me a lot besides the Half Nelson and the Cross Body Ride!”
When he does his locker room meeting with Wrestlers, B.A. tells them of his evolution in Wrestling. “I explain that first I was a fan of Wrestling, then I wrestled, then I coached, along the way, I became a father of wrestlers, a referee, a journalist covering Wrestling, an agent putting together matches, an announcer at events, a school board member preserving and promoting public school Wrestling and most of all a fan of the greatest sport in the world.
My approach to life’s challenges is rooted in my experiences in Wrestling and the people I have had the pleasure of observing, knowing and working with.
When I get into something new, I find a coach or mentor, I observe others, people who are successful at what I want to succeed at. I get a “workout partner”, someone to test me, to bounce ideas off a root for me.
I check my progress, like I used to check my weight. I look at my calendar and practice Time Management like I did when I was competing.
After an inauspicious start to my career as an athlete, I had four great years as the best Wrestler in my weight class and grade. I had a great Senior year. I won the Christmas Tournament I had placed second in as a Junior. I lost one dual meet (on riding time), tied one and pinned my way into the semi final of the “South Shores”. I guess every Wrestler would like one match back, that one would be it for me. We went to Double Overtime and, with time running down, I let Calhoun’s Dave Greenburg go because I thought I’d lose the Referee’s Decision and I wanted a chance to take him down. Dave avoided me and went to the final. The red came up to me later and said I was crazy to let him go, I would have won the Referee’s Decision. I won the Consolation Match against my teammate Joe DiGarbo and I was in the Counties. If I had made it to the Final I would have had a better seed but I met Steve Comiskey, the eventual Champ in the Quarter Final and that was it. No Wrestle-backs. I was in the top 8 in the County but it’s useless to argue where in that 8.
Although I didn’t get as far as I hoped, I competed in the “Jr. Mets” and the 1964 Olympic Trials that were held at Freeport High School (the first round of regional qualifying). It was Bill Farrell’s last event as a Wrestler, he lost in the Heavyweight Final to Morgan Peters. I entered the NYAC Christmas Tournament (now the Bill Farrell) on Christmas break from Moorhead State my Freshman Year at the urging of my younger brother’s Jr. High Coach, Dick Slutzky. Bad Idea, I met a guy named Danny Direnzo who won the tournament and was the OW. He separated my sternum (unintentionally) and my career was over.
My Jr. High Coaches, Randy Gilmore and Bob Schugman, were taught by NWHOF Coach Ed Reinisch and my Varsity Coach, Joe Friedel came through Mepham HS with the help of Ken Hunte and the “Father of Long Island Wrestling”, Sprig Gardner. I went to his camp at Gettysburg College, while he was coaching there. That’s when I met Joe Bavaro.
I practiced Freestyle at Freeport High School under the aegis of Vince Zuaro and Bill Farrell. I was one of the guys who actually bought “Tiger” Wrestling Shoes out of the trunk of his Volkswagon. Both men were friends of mine for life.
In college I was on a powerhouse of a team. Moorhead State. The Dragons had Ten NAIA Champions and had won the team title in 1964. In addition, they had one NCAA DI Champ (Arthur “Bucky” Maughan 1963) and our Heavyweight, Bob Bilberg, placed second twice (1964 & ’66). Somehow, Bill Garland (NWHOF) thought there was a place for me in that lineup.
I didn’t crack the lineup but I did contribute. I helped a couple of guys get through school and I’ve been a booster ever since. I’ve known every President of the institution since my Freshman year and always have a one on one lunch with Anne Blackhurst, our current President, every time I visit my Alma Mater.
In 1982, I moved my family back to Baldwin, in part so my sons could experience wrestling like I had. I helped out with the Kid Wrestling Program for about a dozen years, taking kids upstate, to Bloomsburg and other USA Wrestling events.
In 1987 I took over the Jr. High program, a seminal moment in my life. I had the pleasure of having one of my sons (Patrick) on the team while my youngest (David) was in Kid Wrestling. Their friends from those days have grown into fine young men with kids of their own.
Coaching was too difficult to manage with my work schedule so after four years at the Jr. High, I moved over to scholastic officiating. I had done some USA Wrestling tournaments while I was coaching the Kids because each team was expected to bring some officials and volunteers to the tournaments they competed in but Varsity Wrestling in Section VIII has never been that casual.
While I was getting more involved in Wrestling, after returning to Baldwin; I was on a parallel path of involvement with school issues. The Baldwin Dads & Boosters Club had folded because no one would agree to be its President and so, with a few others, I helped found the Baldwin Bruins Boosters, the name reflecting a societal sea change, the rise of Girls’ Sports and leadership roles for women. Following my tenure, most of the Presidents of the Boosters have been women.
Somehow, the Boosters lead me into several other school oriented associations, always with the concern for preserving scholastic sports, especially Wrestling, while addressing myriad other educational issues. Eventually I was elected to the Baldwin School Board (1996) where I served for 16 years, two as President and then the Board of Nassau BOCES (2009) where I currently serve.
As a school board trustee, I used my greater visibility to advocate for and explain the role of co-curricular activities, like Wrestling, to parents, other school board members and voters. I have presented, among other venues, at the NY State School Boards Association Annual Conference. The room is always packed. As we know, scholastic athletics can be a hot button issue and we need the truth, from a practitioner, to be heard.
There was another consequence to my election to the board of Nassau BOCES, I had to leave Section VIII as a referee. Since BOCES houses and supports the Office of Executive Director of Section VIII, it could be seen as an apparent conflict of interest for me to continue in that role. Therefore, I chose to transfer to the NYCWOA and officiate in the PSAL and Beat The Streets. After twenty years, I was a rookie again.
My friend Al Bevilaqua always called the PSAL the “Sleeping Giant” and his idea, Beat The Streets, is waking the giant up. For me, it has been an exciting part of my career, in particular since the introduction of the Girls’ Freestyle season, which follows the traditional Boys season.
Since the emphasis in NYC is more on Freestyle than it is on Long Island, and since I am retired from employment and an empty nester, I have gotten more involved in officiating in USA Wrestling events.
I have worked the Cadet and Junior National Championships in Fargo three times, with a visit to Moorhead of course.
I’ve had some interesting and rewarding roles in other events as well. For most of my employed career I was a truck driver so it would be natural that I would drive a fifteen passenger van ferrying athletes and coaches to and from area airports and venues.
In 1995 I drove down to Atlanta with “Coach Bev” in his motor home; we carried boxes upon boxes of uniforms and shoes for the former Soviet Union teams that were then just fielding their own international squads.
I had another reason for the trip, I was the Team Leader for the Guam Delegation. As such, I helped the members get their credentials; a more trying process than it sounds. The 1995 World Championships were a test event for the following year’s Atlanta Olympic Games. New security protocols were being used. Our coach, for example, went to the center and was turned away.
Ironically it seems since our coach, Dan Gable, had won that event and was one of if not the best known American Amateur Wrestler. We went back on the second day and Dan sailed through.
A few years later I traveled to the Solomon Islands to assist them in their first International sporting event of any sort. It was an exciting trip. I traveled through Australia to get there and was surprised at the scrutiny their customs gave my luggage. I was carrying 45 pair of Asics wrestling shoes, some duct tape, dry cell batteries and Hydrogen peroxide.
My brother, who lived there and was the event organizer arranged the donation of the shoes and advised me to bring the other supplies. The electrical grid was unreliable there and the locals relied upon a lot of battery powered equipment, hence boxes of AA batteries. He also said the risk of serious infect from even a minor cut or scrape was high and the other westerners all relied on Hydrogen Peroxide, applied topically on any occurrence. The duct tape was in case the overloaded, cheap suitcase split a seam or broke a lock.
To the Aussie Customs boys it all looked like a recipe for a homemade bomb and they took a good look at everything and questioned me extensively about my destination (I’d never been there before), my intentions, (to have some fun) and why I needed 45 pairs of malleable plastic soled shoes. I had much less trouble clearing customs in the Ukraine, not then an ally of the USA but I only had a token supply of Asics equipment or their Wrestling program.
As I write this the World is watching Kazakhstan and the 2019 World Championships. In October, 2014 I got a phone call from Leroy Smith, Executive Director of the NWHOF. “B.A.” he asked, “Do you know how to get to JFK Airport?”
(Spoiler alert) If someone asks you a simple question that you know they know you know the answer; Watch Out!
The world championships had been held in Uzbekistan that year and out Hall of Fame, administrators for the FILA Hall of Fame, had sent the trophy plaques for that year’s inductees to Uzbekistan, for presentation at the championship. The problem was, they didn’t get there until the championship was over and anyone who could have taken possession of the plaques and forwarded them to the proper people had already dispersed. The freight company sent them back to the United States, in this case, JFK and informed the NWHOF that they should be picked up right away or storage charges would begin to accrue.
Like Ghostbusters, “Who you gonna call?”
B.A. Schoen obviously. I got the trophies through Customs, out of the freight company, visiting parts of JFK, visitors never see and re-packed and forwarded some of them.
Several I presented to the representatives from countries that were attending the Bill Farrell tourney at the NYAC. Two of them I delivered to the US Consulate of Kazakhstan in NYC, It was covered by the Kazakh press.
My undergraduate major was Mass Communications, I was simply following my instincts, I’ve been chronicling, opining and arranging events since grade school so covering Wrestling and assisting in event management was just a natural progression.
I’ve been to many events and recorded video interviews with many Wrestling VIPs. Many of them posted on the Friends of Long Island Wrestling Facebook page. I’m looking forward to having the tables turned on myself for a little bit, being interviewed about my upcoming induction to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame for Lifetime Service to Wrestling