Raritan, Middletown North grapplers support ‘Wrestling for Recovery’


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HAZLET — Wrestling mats were brought out of storage for a special purpose on Aug. 12 in Hazlet when members of the Raritan High School and Middletown North High School wrestling teams took part in an exhibition match as part of the inaugural “Wrestling for Recovery” event.

The location for 17 bouts between the Rockets and the Lions was Raritan High School’s Joseph J. DeVirgilio Field. The goal of the event was to raise funds for Hazlet’s Hope Network so it can continue to help people recover from addiction and substance abuse.

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Middletown North Coach Eric Morley said, “It was awesome. This was a great event. The kids got a lot out of it. Their parents were here and we had people in recovery who came out. It was a great event for all involved.”

Hazlet’s Hope Network is a nonprofit organization dedicated to uniting the skills and experience of recovery teams with Monmouth County Bayshore area residents who are seeking life-saving changes from substance use disorder through long-term treatment.

Raritan Coach Rob Nucci serves as president of Hazlet’s Hope Network. He has been associated with the organization since it was created in 2017.

Nucci made it his mission to work with other members of the community to create Hazlet’s Hope Network after watching some of his former wrestlers pass away as a result of their addiction to alcohol and to street drugs and prescription drugs.

One of Nucci’s success stories was helping former Raritan wrestler Phil O’Hara recover from substance abuse.

Nucci remembers how O’Hara, who is a 2005 graduate of Raritan High School, called him at 2 a.m. on a night in 2011. O’Hara told Nucci he was “not in a good place.”

Nucci stayed on the phone with O’Hara until 8 a.m. and was eventually able to get him to a rehabilitation center in Florida.

O’Hara has since recovered and now serves on the Monmouth County Board of Addiction Services and is the director of business development at the Legacy Healing Center.

In 2021, Nucci officiated at the wedding of O’Hara and his wife, Xiomara. The couple recently welcomed their first child.

O’Hara’s mother, Laura, is one member of the community who teamed up with Nucci to create Hazlet’s Hope Network five years ago. As of June, the organization had helped more than 120 area residents recover from addiction and substance abuse issues.

“Those wins of seeing someone going on to fight through their addiction and overcome it and be successful are the most important. We are plugging along. We have helped out a good number of people,” Nucci said.

O’Hara’s story of recovery is featured in the FloWrestling documentary “Fight of Your Life,” which chronicles the lives of former wrestlers and their battles with addiction.

Nucci was interviewed in the documentary which premiered in April and can be seen on FloWrestling.org

Morley saw the documentary and talked to Nucci about how the Middletown community has also been affected by the opioid crisis.

The two coaches continued to talk about how they could do something proactive to help address a problem that was affecting their communities. They eventually came up with “Wrestling for Recovery.”

“We figured if we could get any amount of people here (at the event), whether it was five people or 500 people, if one person got something they needed it would be worth it,” Morley said.

O’Hara attended the event at Raritan High School and spoke about his battle with addiction before the wrestling action began. Food, drinks and a paper airplane toss competition were also part of the evening’s festivities.

Donations and proceeds went to Hazlet’s Hope Network and by the end of the evening, “Wrestling for Recovery” had raised $2,203 for the organization.

“It’s awesome” raising that amount of money, said Nucci. “This is bigger than just a wrestling match. It was great that our boys got an opportunity to wrestle, but more importantly, we raised over $2,200. Hopefully we can help some people.”

On the wrestling mat, the Lions and the Rockets competed in an exciting exhibition match that saw Middletown North win, 45-36.


“I am very happy with the turnout we had. It was a beautiful night and a lot of people came out to see some good wrestling,” Nucci said.

Hazlet’s Hope Network will hold its fourth annual Celebration of Progress gala on Oct. 12.

For more information about the Oct. 12 gala or to donate to Hazlet’s Hope Network, call 732-832-7660 or email HazletsHopeNetwork@gmail.com​

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