Manny Costa has always dumped his heart and soul into the wrestling program at St. John’s Prep, striving to send his athletes into the world with the qualities they needed to succeed in life.
The wins and losses were always secondary.
“I always stress the importance of academics and getting the best education you can to fulfill all of your dreams in life — don’t leave it to someone else to decide your future,” said Costa, now in his 23d season on the Prep sideline.
“I stress the importance of doing the right thing, having discipline and using that to your advantage. That’s way more important than wins and losses.”
But Costa was particularly humbled when the Eagles defeated Peabody, 84-0, on Christmas Eve, for his 500th career victory.
That same day, St. John’s Prep beat Saugus and Watertown 66-0 and 75-0, respectively.
“The guys worked hard and did their best for the program, and everyone along the way wanted to continue that success,” Costa said. “I never thought I would last this long to be honest with you.”
For Costa, a 1983 Peabody High graduate who now serves on the town’s police force, the milestone was slightly bittersweet.
“It’s special and kind of not so special — I would have rather gotten it against someone else,” Costa said. “I’m assigned to Peabody High, so I’m familiar with the administration and students. How it fell and worked out on schedule was amazing.”
When Costa was hired at the Prep in 1990, the goal was specific: coach Ben Ring to a state championship.
Ring’s father, Steve, approached Costa and asked him to fill the void at the coaching position.
Ben wrestled his way to the Division 1 state championship in 1992, and since then Costa and the Eagles have produced 21 individual champions.
“Every year, there was someone else you wanted to coach and it blossomed into one of the best programs,” Costa said. “The kids worked and achieved it, and I never thought I’d be around to see that. Luckily, we’ve been successful.”
Most often, when a coach surpasses a milestone, his or her closest family and friends are watching from the stands.
For Costa, it was even more special as both of his sons, Jared and Hunter, earned pins in the monumental victory.
Jared, a junior captain, wrestles in the 138-pound weight class, while Hunter, a freshman, competes at 106.
Both Jared and Hunter watched their father build the program from the ground up, working the scoreboard or the score sheet during matches.
“To wrestle in the meet and get the pin was fulfilling,” Jared said.
“Every year I was doing the scoreboard and hanging out with the guys, and I always knew I was going to wrestle for my dad. I always wanted to do it my whole life.”
But for Jared, the satisfaction is even greater knowing that he wrestles for one of the best programs in the region.
“Every weekend, teams are going to be coming for us,” Jared said. “You know you’re wrestling against someone who’s going to put their best effort against you every week.”
On Saturday, the Eagles (19-1) picked up four more victories against West Springfield, Franklin Tech, Dean Tech, and Westerly (R.I.).
With a career record of 506-129-5, Costa has guided the Eagles to 14 consecutive Catholic Conference titles, and 17 overall. With the season at the halfway point, another conference title is the primary goal, followed by a run at the team state championship, according to Costa.
“He’s the face of the program and has made a huge impact on the wrestlers as an educator,” St. John’s Prep athletic director Jim O’Leary said.
“He takes great pride. He took it over and has molded and made it his own, and has taken the program to the top level in New England.”