SJV wrestler aims high, despite legal blindness
By Joseph Sapia | Correspondent
HOLMDEL – During a fouryear wrestling career in St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, senior Anthony Ferraro has accomplished a lot.
Twice a District 21 champion, he finished his career with 122 wins, 16 losses. Another win would have tied the school record, two would have broken it.
“Anthony is a phenomenal young man,” said SJV athletic director Richard P. Lamberson. “He ranks second.”
But Ferraro, who wrestled in the 160-pound class this year, poohpoohed this accomplishment.
“I could care less about wins, losses,” Ferraro said. “That wasn’t my goal. My goal was to medal in the states.”
Despite winning more than 88 percent of his matches, Ferraro had never made it to the state high school wrestling tournament.
How far Ferraro has made it, though, is a story in itself, illustrated by a anecdote he mentioned: “When the power goes out in my house,” Ferraro said, “I’m the one that everyone comes running to at night, when they need to find something.”
Ferraro’s world is one of light and shadow in daytime, darkness at nighttime. The 18-year-old has been legally blind since birth, a victim of Leber Congenital Amaurosis, which affects the light-detecting cells of the retina.
“I’ve always been visually impaired,” Ferraro said. “What little I see is normal to me.”
“He didn’t get to the states, but it’s pretty amazing what he’s done,” said elder brother, Oliver, 25, who wrestled for Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft and Hunter College in New York City.
Oliver Ferraro, a video producer in California, and Chris Suchorsky, a New Jersey-based cinematographer, are co-directing a documentary – its working title, “A Shot in the Dark” – about Ferraro.
“He’s my little brother, but I almost look up to him in a way,” Oliver said. “It helps you put things in perspective. It helps me do things.”
“He certainly is a courageous young man that has fought through adversity,” said Pat Smith, SJV’s head wrestling coach. “He’s truly an inspiration to many.”
Ferraro, the youngest of five children of Susan and Bob Ferraro of Spring Lake, where the family attends St. Catharine Parish, is considering various colleges, unsure of what he will major in, but hoping to minor in music.
He plays guitar – “I love it, it’s my favorite thing to do,” he said.
“I ride a bike, skateboard, too,” Ferraro said. “I was at the skateboard park yesterday.”
Ferraro said he had SJV figured out in a week or so after arriving for his freshman year – “It’s two squares on top of each other,” he said. “If Room 101 is here, Room 102 is next to it.”
“He gets around like everybody else,” said Lamberson, now in his third year as athletic director. “He knows his way around the building better than I do.”
Ferraro knows Braille and takes school notes on a laptop computer. He commutes to school – catching a ride with his father in the morning, taking the school bus home in the afternoon.
Ferraro attended kindergarten to sixth grade at St. Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairments in Philadelphia, followed by seventh and eighth grade in a Spring Lake public school, then SJV.
SJV, which has just under 1,000 students, “had the courage to find ways to accommodate Anthony and break down some of the stigma of disability,” Smith said.
“In the beginning, I went extra for him,” Smith said. “But, in four years, he’s given way more for me. It’s been 10-fold what he’s done for St. John Vianney.”
“As a student, Anthony’s very outgoing,” said friend and fellow member of the wrestling team, Matt Falco, a junior. “He likes to joke around. It’s just the way he is.
“If I was a freshman coming in, I wouldn’t think he’s blind or anything,” Falco said. “Anthony’s just like every other student here,” Lamberson said. “He’s a Lancer through and through.”
Wrestling has been “a good thing for his life in a lot of ways,” Oliver said. He said his brother went from being non-active, with soccer helping him both physically and mentally.
Anthony attended Oliver’s soccer matches as a youngster, then got involved himself, with soccer being a sport he can participate in with his blindness.
“It was wrestling that helped me get everywhere I am today,” said Ferarro, who is 5 feet 8 inches and 170 pounds. “You might not always win the match, but, in the big picture, you win.”
“He’s not a blind wrestler; he’s a wrestler,” Falco said. “There are no labels or anything.
“People respect him, I feel,” Falco said. “He’s established himself as one of the best wrestlers at the shore.”
Ferraro’s wrestling life has included controversy. Critics say wrestling rules give Ferraro an advantage by requiring him and an opponent to be in constant physical contact because of his blindness.
“He, in no way, has an advantage,” Lamberson said. “The reason to be in contact is for safety. His opponent can see everything that’s happening; he can’t.”
It is unclear if Ferraro will wrestle in college.
“He’ll be able to accomplish anything he puts his mind to,” Lamberson said. “If he wants to wrestle at the collegiate level, he’ll be a collegiate wrestler.”
“My first priority is finding the right school for me, the right school where I’m going to excel, where I’m going to adapt,” Ferraro said.”
“If that school has a (wrestling) program, then I’d like to wrestle, definitely,” he said. “(But) you’re not a wrestler forever.”
As for his blindness, Ferraro said, “I don’t make a big deal out of it.”
“I’d like to thank God for giving me the opportunity for the things I’m doing,” Ferraro said. “I grew up in a Catholic family. My mom always tells me to keep my faith.”