EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 12, 2012

Saturday night special: NA vs. Timberlane

It's worth watching long-awaited match between these two wrestling superpowers

Bill Burt
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — First, a disclaimer: I am in the hyperbole business.

I, like most in my industry, throw around terms like “best ever” as if I was tossing around pennies. We don’t always mean it literally, but we like to stoke the flames anyway. I plead guilty.

Well, this time I “really” mean what about to write:

Saturday night’s high school wrestling match between North Andover High and Timberlane Regional is one of the biggest and intriguing competitions, wrestling and non-wrestling, we’ve seen in these parts in years.

It has been three decades since these schools, separated by only 12.9 miles (according to MapQuest) have met on the mats.

And everyone I have asked agrees that was wrong.

At the high school level, Timberlane, the host team on Saturday night, is the gold standard. It has been the best program in New England virtually every year the last decade. Not only is it in the top three in the team compeition, but its wrestlers win individual N.E. titles and have had many scholarship winners.

Amazingly, Timberlane has copped 13 straight state titles and five straight N.E. titles.

While football or basketball are the “must-see” sports at 95 percent of the schools in our region, at Timberlane it is wrestling.

If you are lucky enough to get one of the 800 or available tickets, you will see why. For each match, there is only one bright light on in the gym and that’s the big hanging spotlight over the mat. It really is special.

North Andover has a tradition of its own, having had a team for more than five decades.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, North Andover was as dominant at the N.E. level as Timberlane is now.

Recently, North Andover has won three straight Div. 2 team titles of their own. And last year, it finished fourth in N.E.

But North Andover might be at its intimidating best for every team meet, when 50-plus wrestlers, all draped in black, are milling around and cheering from behind the bench where the wrestlers sit.

A debt of gratitude is owed to the two head coach coaches – NA’s Carl Cincotta and Timberlane’s Barry Chooljian – for finally letting cooler heads prevail.

These schools should wrestle every year. The best should always wrestle the best, particularly when you are 15 minutes away from each other.

These two wrestling programs, top to bottom, are the best in New England. If you go early to see the JV meet, which is being treated like an event, too, you’ll understand.

Most of those JVs would be starters at many other schools.

Saturday night will be a great night for the unsung sport of wrestling, which is the ultimate in competition ... mano y mano.

But it is also a great night for any sports fan, wrestling aficionado or not. What’s better than seeing the best at their craft competing, with a full house in tow?

No matter which team wins on Saturday night, this is going to be a night to remember as we get to see the best high school wrestling around here has to offer. And that’s not hyperbole. That’s the truth. You can email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.