When Adam Del Gallo came home from first grade with a signup sheet for Gardiner youth wrestling, his family had no inkling where his participation in the sport would lead them.
Pretty far, it turns out.
Adam’s younger brother Matt set the career record for victories at Gardiner Area High School while winning four state championships. Since his graduation three years ago, younger brother Danny is chasing his record of 171 wins while bidding for a third straight state title. On deck is Peter, a freshman off to a 21-0 start who may be the best of them all.
There are five Del Gallo brothers in all, beginning with Luke, who wrestled until he reached high school. All of them have participated in gymnastics and powerlifting, passions of their father Richard, and have taken those skills to the mat.
“They came into wrestling with a good athletic base,” Gardiner coach Matt Hanley said. “Both parents were gymnasts and they were also into weightlifting. And then it’s their work ethic.”
Richard Del Gallo might have been a wrestler, too, if his high school hadn’t dropped the sport before he arrived. He was drawn to gymnastics where he reached the nationals twice while a student at UMass Amherst and finished among the top 10 in his specialty, still rings. After school ended he turned his competitive nature to powerlifting where he, and eventually, four of his sons, won national titles in their weight divisions.
“The benefits of that sport are just tremendous,” he said.
Richard and Stacy Del Gallo’s sons inherited their parents size as well as their competitive spirit. At 5-foot-5 and 130 pounds, Richard remains close to the same size he was in college. Adam, who competed in the 152-pound division and took third in the state in high school, is the largest brother of the group.
Matt won state titles at 112, 119 and 125 pounds while Danny has competed at 125 and 130 pounds and this year will likely take the mat at the state meet at 138. Peter has wrestled at 112 but expects to drop to 106.
There’s not much peace and quiet at the Del Gallo house although it’s subsided some since Matt, Adam and Luke graduated from high school. There are competitive games going on all the time from ping pong to chin-up contests. In the summer, they have a wrestling mat they put on the front lawn.
“They’re wrestling constantly,” Stacy said. “In the living room they have these little competitions. It doesn’t bother me, it’s like normalcy.”
If they were heavyweights, Stacy might serve them pies and mufffins, but in-season wrestling requires constant attention to weight.
“You certainly can’t do any baking,” she said. “We just have to eat really healthy and watch their weight.”
Matt is about to return to Messiah College in Pennsylvania after taking a semester off to travel out West. He’ll rejoin the wrestling team next fall. His style differs somewhat from his brothers although, like Danny and Peter, he’s very aggressive.
“Matt’s style is aggressive to the pin,” Hanley said. “I think he wrestled with a little bit of fear. Danny and Peter, they’re apt to score 13 or 14 points, then try to pin you.”
Matt went 165-1 against Maine competition during his high school career, adding six more wins at the New Englands. Hanley said Matt changed the team’s philosophy against out-of-state competition .
“We’re not just wrestling to go to the New Englands, we’re wrestling to win at the New Englands,” he said.
That change showed up last year when Danny placed second at the New Englands and made a strong showing at the nationals in Virginia Beach. He’s a practice fanatic and student of the sport and both he and Peter have been exposed to much more out-of-state competition than Matt did. He takes his role as team captain seriously.
“I try to set an example,” he said. “I always show (teammates) stuff I see, I always try to push them to their limits.”
Dan is 159-10, including New England competition, and has set a goal to win a New England title this season. He’ll be a prohibitive favorite at the state meet. It’s tough for him to find competition in practice or even in meets so he travels to Mt. Ararat frequently to wrestle Jared Jenson, the 160-pound Class A champ from Brunswick. He scours the Internet for wrestling videos and likes to try out new moves, but he doesn’t overdo it in matches.
“It’s basically one-on-one combat,” Dan said. “Being aggressive is important. Strategizing too much will get you into trouble.”
Peter is sort of a combination of his older brothers. He’s already beaten defending state champ Tyler Craig of Skowhegan twice in overtime and has his sights set on a state title. He’s benefited greatly from having older brothers who are bigger and stronger than he is.
“They beat up on him, that’s why he’s so good,” Stacy said. “But he loves it. They’re very good with him. They’re very proud of each other.”
Matt’s not crazy about having his school record for wins broken but concedes “as long as it’s Daniel, not anybody else. Peter will break it when he gets up there.”
Danny is also one of the top soccer players at the school while Peter bulks up to 120 pounds during football season to become a workhorse running back. And they all played baseball growing up. But it’s wrestling that strikes the fire in a Del Gallo’s belly and it requires as much mental discipline as it does physical training.
“Not everybody can handle wrestling,” Danny said.
As far as Richard is concerned, he likes the lessons of winning and losing the sport teaches his sons.
“Putting your best effort out, the shaking of hands at the beginning,” he said. “And when you’re done you shake the other coach’s hand. Win or lose you show respect for your opponent. It makes them turn into men.”
Gary Hawkins — 621-5638