Mention Eastern wrestling to South Jersey coaches and fans and invariably there will be one of two reactions: kudos or complaints.
The team has become a lightning rod since four accomplished wrestlers, from Camden Catholic, Delsea, Haddonfield and Paulsboro, transferred to Eastern recently.
Of the four, Camden Catholic's Jackson Brady (152 pounds), Delsea's Anthony Baldosaro (140), and Paulsboro's Eric Dunnet (125) all wrestle for the Voorhees Junior Wrestling Club, while Haddonfield's Cal Stack (119) does not.
The prevailing thought by some wrestling fans is that Brady, Baldosaro and Dunnet wanted to wrestle together at the same high school, so they transferred to Eastern, which has a strong program.
Complaints come from those who say club coaches are recruiting the best wrestlers for their schools.
Kudos come from those who believe that wrestlers should be permitted to compete for whichever high school team they want, provided, of course, that they live in or move into the school district.
Dunnet, who has three district and two regional titles, said he was not recruited by anyone at Voorhees, including coach Bobby Ray Stinson Sr. His moving into the Eastern School District last spring was directly related to a family situation, he said.
Stinson is the father of Eastern junior Hank Stinson, a state champion at 135 pounds.
Dunnet also said he didn't know that Jackson had transferred to Eastern until they bumped into each other at the school.
Eastern (25-3), a runner-up in South Jersey Group 4 last season, already had a strong lineup returning, with three Region 7 champions, one of whom - Stinson - had won a state crown. Now, with Baldosaro on board, the Vikings have two state champions in the lineup.
Gary Worthington, in his seventh season as the Vikings' head coach, said he had no idea about the four transfers until athletic director Phil Smart told him last spring.
"Their parents called the A.D., and he told me," Worthington said. "I'm ecstatic. My program is ecstatic. But we do hear things on the outside, about recruiting - how did we get all these kids?
"Let the kids and parents live their lives. There are adults ripping children. The parents are sending their kids to a great school, trying to do the best for them."
Ranked No. 1 in the preseason in South Jersey by The Inquirer, Eastern, which has not won a team group or state title, could be the top squad in the state by season's end.
Here are some other things to keep your eye on this season:
Pete DiPol is among three coaches who have changed teams this season.
Head coach at Camden Catholic for the last three years, DiPol left a highly successful program for a promising one at Haddonfield.
Gerard Boland, Cinnaminson's head man the last four years, picks up where DiPol left off at Catholic, the defending Non-Public A state champion.
Mike Beirao, an assistant at Sterling the last two years, is the new head coach at Cinnaminson.
Camden Catholic and Haddonfield, ranked second and third, respectively, in the preseason top 10, could butt heads at the Jack Welch Duals on Jan. 30 and 31 at Moorestown and again in the District 28 tournament in late February.
"I prepared those guys [at Catholic] to do battle, and now I'm trying to do the same with Haddonfield," DiPol said. "It will be fun."
In addition, DiPol will be guiding the Bulldogs against Paulsboro, a Colonial Conference rival led by Paul Morina, his former high school coach.
DiPol resigned from Catholic in June because his 2-year-old daughter was ill. He wanted to devote all his free time to her, he said.
By October, the situation stabilized, the Haddonfield job opened, and DiPol was hired.
Glassboro has combined its wrestling team with Clayton's to keep the program alive.
Dwindling numbers of wrestlers and funds were about to eliminate the sport at Glassboro. So head coach Frank Daminger and athletic director Jeff Cusack spoke with Clayton's athletic director and wrestling coach, Dan Antonelli, about a merger.
Antonelli agreed to have Glassboro's grapplers become part of his team in an arrangement that will be in effect for two years. Afterward, Glassboro hopes to have its numbers up in terms of wrestlers and dollars, according to Daminger, who has deferred to Antonelli as the head coach while he assists.
"I was forfeiting four [bouts] per match last year," said Daminger, who recalled that his team lost to Clayton by three points in a match in the Tri-County Conference's Classic Division.
It's hard to believe that the once mighty Paulsboro wrestling team is not favored to win the Colonial Conference title.
The decline started last season, when the Red Raiders had no seniors in the starting lineup. On Jan. 16, Collingswood edged Paulsboro, 28-22, to end the Red Raiders' 36-year winning streak in the conference.
Haddonfield handed Paulsboro its next conference loss, 43-27, and Paulsboro finished the season with a 7-2 record.
Haddonfield and Collingswood appear to be the top contenders in the Colonial.
Now, coach Paul Morina's team takes the mat without two key participants: Eric Dunnet and Gerald Hodges. Both seniors left the program.
Dunnet, a potential state champion at 125 pounds, transferred to Eastern, of course. Hodges, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound free safety in football, plans to enroll at Penn State in January to play that sport. He compiled a 42-1 record at 215 pounds last year and placed third in the state. His career record is 85-7.
More than one coach has described Burlington Township as a team that is under the radar. The Falcons lost only one member from a squad that was 17-8 last season. They are experienced from bottom to top, and although coach Brad Klotz is wary of too much attention this early, his team will likely earn it as the season progresses.
- Bill Iezzi