CULLEN FITZGIBBONS’ AWARD
The Cullen Fitzgibbons’ Award is given each year to an individual who is the most inspirational wrestler in the state of California. This year’s award is being given to more than one individual due to the amazing resilience shown by this group of individuals.
The 2019 Cullen Fitzgibbons’ Award goes to the Paradise High School wrestling team and coaches.
They have persevered since last November when the Camp Fire took over and ravaged their town of Paradise. The Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history resulting in 86 fatalities, 18,804 buildings destroyed and just over 153,000 acres burned. Among the 47 wrestlers on the Paradise High wrestling team, 44 of them lost their homes, including all 4 coaches. The majority of the wrestlers’ families were forced to relocate out of the area and some out of state. Only 13 wrestlers remain on the team, along with 2 of the coaches; Head Coach John Morelli and Assistant Coach Thomas Harris. These remaining wrestlers and coaches are living in Red Cross shelters, RVs, friends’ homes in neighboring Chico, or in rental homes.
Although their team dwindled by large numbers, their will to continue wrestling and compete did not. And, although their wrestling facility burned to the ground, taking with it their newly purchased mat, these wrestlers were determined to keep moving forward. With offers from local Butte County schools and businesses, the team was able to secure a practice facility at a local warehouse.
With perseverance, the wrestling team:
– Produced 5 Westside League Champions
– Qualified 10 wrestlers to the Division I Northern Sub-Section, producing 5 Placers
– Qualified 8 wrestlers to the CIF Northern Section, producing 5 placers in the top 8
Hearing about the tragedy in Paradise and the loss of the wrestling facility and newly purchased mat, Joe Ming, a former wrestler and father of state qualifier Peter Ming of Elk Grove, spearheaded an effort to raise funds for a new mat via GoFundMe. Along with the staff of the California Wrestler, Joe diligently got the word out in short order to local, state, and national wrestling communities who came together to raise the necessary funds to purchase the new mat. The goal was to have this new mat in time to use at the Northern Section Championships, but due to logistics the mat is still in production. However, a replica of the mat was presented to the team at the finals of the CIF State Championships!