Rollie Peterkin cemented his status as one of the great lightweight wrestlers in state history late last month by becoming the first Massachusetts wrestler to win consecutive titles at the National Freestyle Championships in Fargo, N.D.
Now, Peterkin, who won 112-pound New England and All-State titles last winter at Wellesley High School, will try to make history elsewhere after deciding to pack up his singlet and enroll at Blair Academy, a private boarding school in New Jersey that boasts the best wrestling program in the nation.
"I thought it was a good time to make the change, both for wrestling and for academics," said Peterkin, 17, who won the 105-pound Junior division (17- and 18-year-olds) title in Fargo last week after winning the 98-pound Cadet division (15- and 16-year-olds) title last year. "It was time to move on to bigger and better things."
Peterkin should feel right at home at Blair, a school that has won 24 consecutive national prep wrestling championships.
Last winter, the lightning-quick 5-foot-3-inch junior dominated the state and regional wrestling scene. Peterkin won titles at the Lowell Holiday tournament and the Division 2 sectional and state meets, before winning his second-straight All-State championship and his first New England championship.
This summer, Peterkin tuned up for the National Freestyle Championships, the nation's largest and most prestigious high school competition, by winning his fourth straight Bay State Games gold medal.
"He's in a class by himself," said Wellesley High coach Matt Wassel. "That's why going to Blair is the right thing for him. There's just no competition for him around here until he gets to the state finals or even the New England finals. As much as it hurts to lose him, I know he's doing the right thing. I'm psyched for him. It's a great decision."
Peterkin's quest for worthy competition reached extraordinary levels last winter. In order to get on the same mat with two of the best wrestlers in the state, the 112-pound Peterkin moved up to 119 pounds, where he beat Lowell High New England champ Casey Boyle before losing his only match of the season, a 125-pound contest to Natick High state champ Tim Gammons.
"Other coaches were coming up to me and telling me that I was going to get him hurt," Wassel said. "But those were the only competitive matches he had all year before he got to New Englands."
Peterkin won't have to search too far for competition at Blair. The Buccaneers are widely considered to have the best high school program in the country. The school's roster reads like a who's-who of the top grapplers. Blair dispatched 12 wrestlers to the National Freestyle Championships and over the last three years the school has sent graduates to Harvard, Iowa, Oklahoma State, and many of the nation's other top college programs.
"Blair has a great tradition," said Rollie's father, Roger Peterkin, who served last week as the team leader for Team Massachusetts' nine-member squad in Fargo, which included Needham's Nick Gamble. "They have state champions from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and all over the country. It's a great academic school and a great environment for wrestling. It's a perfect choice for Rollie."
While Rollie Peterkin is excited about the competition awaiting him this fall at Blair, he admitted it's going to be tough to leave behind his friends, teammates, and coaches at Wellesley High.
"I've grown up in Wellesley and wrestled forever in Wellesley," he said. "Wellesley wrestling is my home, so it kind of feels like I'm abandoning them. But everyone's been supportive. They know it's for the better."
Peterkin delivered his last goodbyes to Wellesley with a scintillating performance in Fargo. Competing against the best high school juniors and seniors in the nation, he went 9-0, recording five wins by technical fall and one by pin during the three-day tournament. Peterkin's closest match was a not-so-close 7-3 semifinal victory over Delaware All-American Ian Moser. He closed out the tournament by dominating Colorado's Gabe Burak, 14-5, with a victory in the finals.
"It was incredible," said Peterkin, who was the only 2003 Cadet Division champion to return to Fargo this summer and win a Junior Division title. "I never believed that one day I could do something like this. To win one was amazing. Winning two was more than twice as good."
Peterkin's career at Wellesley is over, but one of the best high school wrestlers the state has ever produced is looking forward to a bright new future in New Jersey.
"I need the room to grow and get better so that I can move on to the next level," he said.
James Whitters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.