Rivera thrilled by son’s state wrestling championship triumph


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By Tim Morris

Steve Rivera won the NJSIAA state championship in 1988 while wrestling for Manalapan High School.

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At this year’s state championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, he had the opportunity to relive that joy — this time as a father. His son, Sebastian Rivera, a senior at Christian Brothers Academy (CBA), followed his father’s example by capturing the 113-pound state wrestling championship. He defeated top-seeded Pat Glory of Delbarton School by pin in the final held March 6.

For Steve Rivera, his son’s victory was the culmination of a goal Sebastian Rivera set out on when he entered high school and one that he, as the father, enjoyed along the way.

“The whole experience was an incredible moment in life seeing my kid win it,” Steve Rivera said. “To see him live the same dream as I did and go through the same process was incredible.

“It’s been an incredible, fulfilling journey with him.”

After after fifth-place finishes as a sophomore and junior, Sebastian Rivera knew that 2016 was his last chance to join his father as an NJSIAA champion.

“To finally do it is the best feeling,” the Colts’ standout said. “Just to follow in his footsteps is a great honor.

“He’s always been there when I needed him. He’s always helping me.”

Sebastian Rivera’s victory was a real family triumph, as Warner Rivera, Steve’s dad who helped get wrestling started in Manalapan, was deeply moved by his grandson’s win.

“Dad cried when Sebastian won,” Steve Rivera said. “He didn’t cry when I won.”

Sebastian Rivera has been around wrestling all his life. His father runs Elite Wrestling in Jackson Township, where the family lives. There is also a club in Toms River. There, Rivera and his staff have trained high school state and Ultimate Fighting Championship champions. It would seem only natural then that Sebastian Rivera would become a wrestler like his dad, but Steve Rivera insisted it was always his choice.

“It was never that you have to go [to the gym]. It was do you want to go? [Wrestling] is something he enjoyed doing,” he said.

Sebastian noted that his father never put any pressure on him to get into wrestling.

“He always let me make my decisions. He let me pick CBA,” he said.

The younger Rivera did try other sports, like lacrosse, but he explained that wrestling would be his main sport.

“It’s a great sport,” he said. “It teaches you so much.”

Entering CBA, wrestling was his sole focus.

Steve Rivera recalled his son’s beginnings in the sport. He wrestled his first match at 5 years old.

“His head gear was bigger than him,” Steve Rivera said.

Steve Rivera estimates that his son has won more than 700 matches in his career, including the 111 he won at CBA, where he was the first Colt since 1969 to win the NJSIAA championship.

Although success can never be predicted at the start, Steve Rivera had a pretty good idea early on that his son had what it takes.

“His work ethic was always there,” he said. “He really took into conditioning, and I believe that was the difference in his semifinal and final. Wrestling is about conditioning.”

Sebastian Rivera remarked that he never got tired and it showed in those final two matches.

His father pointed out that by wrestling at his club, Sebastian Rivera was always around champion wrestlers and picked up on what it takes to succeed on a championship level.

“It takes a village to build a champion,” Steve Rivera said.

Having a father who was a state and national champion to go to for advice or work out with is a major plus.

Steve Rivera is not a champion stuck in the past. He is more than willing to give today’s high school wrestlers their just due.

“It’s a whole other world,” he said. “They are a lot better that we were. They’ve evolved as athletes and technically have gotten better.”

The wrestling journey of the Rivera family is not over yet. Sebastian Rivera has an athletic scholarship to wrestle for Northwestern University in the Big 10, where he will major in economics.

“I’m excited to see my son’s future,” Steve Rivera said, adding it has always been his son’s goal to wrestle in college.

From Manalapan, Steve Rivera went on to be a multiple All-American and national champion at then-Trenton State College, which is now The College of New Jersey. His son is very aware of that and added that his college goal is to follow in his footsteps and win a national championship.

No one would be happier or prouder than his father.

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