HOWELL – John Gagliano, who fashioned an outstanding career as a wrestler at Howell High School before returning to his alma mater to coach the Rebels, notched the 500th dual meet victory of his coaching career late in the 2021 campaign.
When the Rebels defeated Piscataway, 69-9, in Piscataway on April 6, Gagliano’s coaching record moved to 500-79 over his 24-year coaching career at Howell.
Gagliano’s teams have won two NJSIAA Group V team championships (2017 and 2018), four state sectional titles, seven district team championships and 18 Shore Conference A North Division titles.
Gagliano was named the National Wrestling Coaches Association New Jersey Coach of the Year for the 2016-17 season.
Howell Deputy Mayor Tom Russo, a Rebels wrestling alumni, paid tribute to his former coach during the April 13 meeting of the Township Council.
“My old wrestling coach, John Gagliano, got his 500th win and is the first coach in Shore Conference history to do that. It is a big deal.
“He is a Howell guy. He went to Howell High School. He was my coach; he coached many people before me and many great wrestlers and kids after me.
“I really appreciate him, he was a big part of my childhood and young adult life. I just want to say thank you, coach,” Russo said.
Gagliano graduated from Howell in 1987. He wrestled at Middlesex County College before he transferred to Kean College (now Kean University) in Union County and wrestled for that school for two years.
In 1994, Gagliano was hired as a varsity assistant coach at Point Pleasant Borough High School. He returned to Howell High School in 1998 and still teaches health and physical education.
“This is my 24th year at Howell and my 28th year overall teaching. I love my job. I am very, very blessed. I love coming to work, I love coaching. There is nowhere else I would rather be than in this building and in this town,” he said.
In an interview, Gagliano told the Tri-Town News he credits his coaches Doug Bower (Howell), John Sacchi (Middlesex) and Craig Spencer (Kean) as his mentors.
He said his best memories as Howell’s wrestling coach are the bonds that have been formed during more than two decades he has led the Rebels.
“Every year, you just grow and you attach, and you just love to see them. You see them come in as a freshman, then graduate, and then seeing them afterward; seeing how successful and great they are doing.
“Some are now getting married (and starting) families. Great job, as a teacher, I am proud of that. Just to be around, and the bonds.
“The highlights of the teams we have had and the success we have had, and the championships, and coaching my son here.
“There are just so many memories, so many great memories, with teams, with kids, and coaches. The guys I work with, I have great men I work with,” Gagliano said.
When informed that Russo made note of his 500th dual meet victory during a recent council meeting, Gagliano said, “Tommy Russo is awesome. He wrestled, his brother wrestled for us, he came through here and he is on the Township Council, it is guys like that. You just love to see (that), and he is a lawyer, I love seeing that.”
The Rebels’ coach did not make his 500th dual meet win about himself, saying, “I don’t like to think about something for myself. It is about the kids and it is about the kids doing well and preparing. Whether it is about the team or the individual (post-season tournaments). That is the focus and it is always going to be the focus,” Gagliano said.