Phil Anastasia: Remembering a wrestler who died in Vietnam
Gene Kain will be the first to say his individual state title was a team effort. Part of that gold medal was earned by his coaches. Part was earned by the other athletes who were members of the powerhouse 1964 Haddonfield wrestling team.
Gene Kain will be the first to say his individual state title was a team effort.
Part of that gold medal was earned by his coaches. Part was earned by the other athletes who were members of the powerhouse 1964 Haddonfield wrestling team.
But the biggest share belonged to Kain's wrestling partner, his old friend, and his idea of a hero.
And that was before Ronald Bond never came home from Vietnam.
"Ron was all about the team," Kain said yesterday during a break in the first Capt. Ronald Bond Duals in Haddonfield's historic gymnasium. "Every team needs a guy who will lose weight, or wrestle up, or take on the other team's toughest guy. That was Ron."
Kain is Haddonfield's last state champion, as well as its former mayor. He won the 106-pound title as a junior for a team that probably was the best in South Jersey.
That same season, Bond won the district title at 115 pounds, and placed third in the region.
"We were always together," Kain said. "Same age, same neighborhood, same Little League team, same diving team.
"But where we really bonded was in the wrestling room. We were the little guys. It was us against the world."
There are lots of tournaments this time of year. This one was special because of the man for whom it was named.
Bond never returned to Haddonfield. This tournament is part of the ongoing effort to make sure he's never forgotten.
"It's the coolest thing that they named this tournament after him," said junior heavyweight Andrew Baumgardner, who helped St. Augustine Prep to the team title.
The wrestling room at Haddonfield was named for Bond years ago. But Haddonfield coach Pete DiPol thought it was important to make a more public statement of the program's respect for one of its former wrestlers.
The new tournament was the perfect opportunity. Yesterday's event included a presentation by Haddonfield's American Legion Post 38, with a special emphasis on honoring the legacy of this country's POW/MIA veterans.
In addition, senior 130-pounder Roy Vázquez of Pennsauken - who registered three first-period pins - was awarded a Pat Tillman football jersey as the tournament's Most Outstanding Wrestler.
"I didn't want anybody to forget about him," DiPol said of Bond. "The room is named after him, but how many people see the room? I wanted people to know the story, especially the wrestlers.
"They should know who wore that singlet before them."
Bond enrolled in the Air Force Academy after graduating from Haddonfield in 1965. He was serving in the 390th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Da Nang Air Base in South Vietnam when his plane failed to return from a reconnaissance mission Sept. 30, 1971.
It was his 150th mission in 222 days.
Bond was awarded the Air Medal with eight oak leaf clusters (meaning it was awarded nine times).
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (meaning it was awarded three times).
His administrative status was changed to "Killed In Action" in 1979.
"It's awesome," St. Augustine coach Joe Melchiore said of having a tournament in Bond's honor. "It's something all these kids should learn about."
There was great wrestling all day, with eight teams competing for the first Capt. Ronald Bond Duals title.
St. Augustine Prep beat Haddonfield, 33-24, in a good match in the semifinals, and the Hermits handled Wallkill Valley, 50-16, in the finals.
Fittingly, it was a team effort.