Pace has slowed, but Morina keeps winning
Paul Morina has won more consistently than any other current coach in any boys' sport in South Jersey. Maybe that's why he remembers the losses so well.
Paul Morina has won more consistently than any other current coach in any boys' sport in South Jersey.
Maybe that's why he remembers the losses so well.
And appreciates them so much.
Morina is beginning his 29th season as head coach of the Paulsboro wrestling team. He has a typical squad - deep, talented, committed to wearing those shiny red warm-ups and representing the scrappy little town on the Delaware River with full-hearted fervor.
Morina's career record is an astounding 570-38-4. His first 21 teams won state titles. He had 319 wins before he had 10 losses.
But there has been a gradual and refreshing change around the Paulsboro wrestling program over the last few years. Morina senses it, welcomes it, embraces it.
"The pressure is off," Morina said the other day during another grueling workout in the team's hot and humid wrestling room.
That's not to suggest that Morina doesn't still hold himself and his program to the highest of standards. Paulsboro will win and win this season - you can take that to the bank, make a deposit, and get a receipt - in competition against the best teams in South Jersey.
And in addition to team strength, Paulsboro has several wrestlers who could make a major impact in the individual state tournament, including juniors Ron Gentile - perhaps the favorite at 138 pounds - and Sam Morina, the coach's son.
But when Paul Morina speaks with pride about Sam Morina, he doesn't mention his son's 34 victories last season or impressive performance in the district, region, or state tournament.
He talks about his boy's demeanor after a setback.
"I guess I'm most proud of the way he acts after a loss," Paul Morina said.
Paul Morina taught his sons - his oldest boy, Mike, also is a junior wrestler for the Red Raiders, and Anthony is a seventh grader - how to deal with defeat.
In a way, he taught the whole town.
In 2008, Paulsboro lost a Colonial Conference match for the first time in 37 years, after 307 straight wins. The same year, the Red Raiders lost in the South Jersey Group 1 final after 25 straight state titles and also lost the District 29 title for just the second time in 37 years.
"All at once," Morina said of the ending of those streaks. "I was glad it was on me. I wanted to be the one to deal with it. I had prepared myself for how I would act when it happened."
Paulsboro won state titles in 2009, 2010, and 2011 but couldn't match up with Bound Brook over the last two seasons. The Red Raiders still are the dominant force in the Colonial Conference, but they lost big to Delsea last season and also dropped a decision to Clearview.
The sun came up the next day.
In his first 22 seasons, Morina's record was 441-20-4. Over the last six, it's 129-18.
He's losing more often than ever - a relative term, to be sure, as about 99 percent of other coaches would love to have his reduced winning percentage - but he has never seemed more relaxed, more comfortable, more in tune with the true priorities of his profession.
Morina, also the school's principal, likes this team because it's filled with bright-eyed kids committed to the program. There are lots of them, too. He said 48 boys came out for wrestling, the most ever in his tenure.
He has been splitting practices to do "more teaching" with the less-experienced wrestlers, and he has been busy trying to line up competitions for what should be a full junior-varsity lineup.
In addition to battling Colonial Conference powers Collingswood and Haddonfield, Paulsboro will wrestle Clearview and Delsea, St. Augustine and Highland, Phillipsburg and Absegami. The Red Raiders could win them all, could go undefeated all the way to that trip up to Toms River for a battle with another loaded Bound Brook squad in the state team championships.
Or they could lose a couple.
Morina, 55, wants to win them all. He's wired that way.
But maybe it takes the ultimate winner to remind everybody that the occasional loss isn't such a bad thing, either.