The History of Bishop Ryan Wrestling


The Bishop Ryan High School Wrestling program was born in 1969 as it was the latest addition to the BR sports programs. Coach Harry Mancini won B.R.'s first City of Hamilton Championship in 1972. It did not take coach Mancini too long before he produced B.R.'s first Ontario High School (OFSAA) champion by way of a 90lb wrestler named Joe Sardo, who won the Gold medal in the 1975 OFSAA Wrestling Championships. This was only the beginning for the B.R. wrestling program as they began producing more OFSAA medallists with a Silver medal by heavy weight Kevin Henderson in 1976 and in 1977 B.R. had its second OFSAA Champion by Mike Marzucco in the 106lb class. The Bishop Ryan wrestling program took on another first in 1978 by producing its first Canadian Espoir Champion by way of Mike Marzucco in the 48kg class.

The B.R. program even though successful in producing individual champions still had not dominated as a team in the province but that was soon to change. In 1981 the B.R. Celtics savored its first taste of team dominance as it placed second at OFSAA and later that year a young Chris Woodcroft won his first Canadian title as a B.R. Celtic. Chris would go on in his career to become a two-time Olympian (1988 & 1992) and B.R.'s first graduate to achieve this level. The B.R. wrestling dynasty was emerging and in 1982 Bishop Ryan captured its first OFSAA Team Championship. The Celtic wrestling team went on to win the OFSAA Team Title four times and placed second three times from 1981 to 1987. The B.R. wrestling program had become the top high school wrestling program in Ontario and probably in Canada. 


Coach Mancini left teaching in 1988 and with it his head coaching position of the B.R. wrestling program. The principal, not wanting to end the program at B.R., recruited a young wrestler and certified math/phys-ed teacher from the McMaster Wrestling program. John Di Benedetto, a product of both the B.R. Wrestling program (1978-82) and McMaster Wrestling program (1982-87), took over the B.R. team in February of 1988. With only four weeks with his newly adopted team, Coach Di Benedetto guided his wrestlers to a Bronze Team finish at the 1988 OFSAA Championships. At the 1989 OFSAA Championships, coach Di Benedetto brought B.R. their first ever Four-Time OFSAA Champion as Greg Woodcroft captured his fourth consecutive OFSAA Title and like his brother Chris, Greg went on to graduate to the McMaster Varsity Wrestling program and was our Canadian Olympic representative at the 52kg class at the '96 Olympics, taking over were his brother left off. It was thought that the likes of Greg Woodcroft would never again be seen on the B.R. wrestling team but that too would change.

With four OFSAA team titles during the Mancini regime coach Di Benedetto had big shoes to fill and in 1990 coach Di Benedetto, with the help of assistant coach Derm Tilley, captured B.R.'s fifth OFSAA Team Title. Again in 1994 B.R. won yet another OFSAA Team Title bringing the number to six. In 1995 and 1996 the Celtic squad took second place finishes both years at OFSAA bringing its record to Six Team Championships, Six Silver Team finishes and One Bronze Team finish since 1981. In 1996 B.R. wrestling produced its first FIVE-TIME OFSAA medallist from Fabio Coccia who won Two Gold medals and Three Silver medals during his interim with the Celtic program. During the next 2 years the Bishop Ryan team went through a rebuilding period and in 1998 the team was blessed with an outstanding rookie, Sheldon Francis, who has embraced the sport with such a passion that he may become the most accomplished BR wrestler ever. Going into the 2001- 2002 season Sheldon has to his credits a GOLD and Bronze OFSAA medal as well as 2 Canadian Championship titles and most recently won the Gold at the 2001 Canada Summer Games. There will be more to come..............

And more did come as Sheldon Francis finished a 5 year career at BR capturing his third consecutive OFSAA Gold at the 2003 OFSAA Championships in the 77kg class. He is BR's only wrestler to win 3 OFSAA Golds all in the same weight category and is arguably the most accomplished athlete ever to walk the halls of Bishop Ryan. Joining Sheldon on the top of the podium of the 2003 OFSAA Championships is an up and coming talent of James Garcia-Hennings who won the Gold in the 41kg class. James would go on and win Silver at both the 2004 and 2005 OFSAA Championships.

At the 2006 OFSAA Championships the BR squad took 3rd place with 5 athletes on the podium. At the 2007 OFSAA Championships the team once again placed 3rd bringing home 4 individual medals; a Gold, a Silver and 2 Bronze. The 2008 OFSAA Championship saw BR place 3rd for the third consecutive year with 3 Silver medals and one Bronze medal. In 2009 BR placed 4th as a team at the OFSAA Championships with a Gold and Silver medal. This marks the 24th time in Bishop Ryan's school history that the wrestling team has placed in the top 6 at OFSAA. In 2011 BR produced its second ever FIVE-TIME OFSAA medallist from Chris Garneau who won One Gold medal and Four Silver medals during his interim with the Celtic Wrestling Program. In 2012 BR had another first with Monica Wood becoming Bishop Ryan's first female wrestler to stand on the OFSAA podium as she placed 4th at the 47.5kg class.

In September of 2012 the BR Wrestling Program received a tremendous boost when we received the news that our own alumnus Sheldon Francis was to join the BR teaching staff and hence become BR's newest wrestling coach. Sheldon has come home to his wrestling roots and quickly took control of the BR team. In only his first season with the team, Sheldon has put BR wrestling back on the OFSAA Wrestling stage by placing 7 athletes on the podium at the 2013 OFSAA Wrestling Championships and leading the team to a Silver Medal Team finish. This marks the 18th time in Bishop Ryan's school history that the Wrestling team has placed in the top 3 at OFSAA. 


The 2013-2014 season saw tremendous changes as Bishop Ryan CSS moved to its third new location, a state of the art facility, which included a fully matted Wrestling Room. The BR wrestling program was given a big boost in the program with the construction of this wrestling room giving the opportunity to offer wrestling to the greater Hamilton area year round.

At the 2014 OFSAA Wrestling Championships, coach Francis brought back to BR the 19th OFSAA boys team medal in its school's history by way of a Bronze Team medal. The 2015 OFSAA Championships saw our second female to stand on the podium in 6th place by Elisabetta Paiano. Bishop Ryan captured its 20th OFSAA boys team medal with a Silver Team performance and with the help of our girl’s team, BR Wrestling won its first ever Combined Silver Team medal. At the 2016 OFSAA Championships BR captured its second Combined Team medal, a Bronze, with the boys taking a Silver Team finish.


While the boys team continued dominating at the provincial high school level it was time for our girls to take the spotlight as a growing force of provincial high school girls wrestling. At the 2017 OFSAA Championships Bishop Ryan Wrestling made history with our first ever female OFSAA Gold medallists. Elinor Brown and Ligaya Stinellis captured Gold. It was almost a hat-trick of Gold as Ellise Daynes captured OFSAA Silver and propelling the girls team to its first ever OFSAA Silver team performance. With boys taking an OFSAA Bronze the entire BR squad captured its third OFSAA Combined medal with Bronze.

It was at the 2018 OFSAA Wrestling Championships that BR Wrestling solidified its claim as the #1 High School Wrestling program in Ontario placing a record 12 wrestlers on the podium and with our girls declared for the first time OFSAA TEAM CHAMPIONS! With our boys team, lead by OFSAA Silver medallist Adriano Di Benedetto, taking a Silver Team medal Bishop Ryan captured its first ever overall COMBINED TEAM GOLD. BR also achieved its first ever 2x female OFSAA Champion by way of Ligaya Stinellis winning her second consecutive OFSAA Gold medal. Joining her on the top of the podium was Ellise Daynes capturing her first OFSAA title. Elinor Brown took her second OFSAA medal, a Bronze at these championships and BRs youngest ever female OFSAA medallist came from grade 9 Serena Di Benedetto who in her first year as a Celtic wrestler captured an OFSAA Bronze Medal.

Yes, BR Wrestling achieved a lot of firsts in 2018 but BR achieved one more first ever. Since 1978 BR has achieved 35 individual Canadian Wrestling Champions all boys. It was Ellise Daynes and Serena Di Benedetto making BR history winning the 2018 Canadian Wrestling Gold and our first Female Canadian Wrestling Champions bringing our total to 37 Canadian Champs. Serena also represented Canada at the 2018 Cadet Pan-American Championships capturing a Pan-Am Bronze medal.


Entering its 50th year of BR wrestling, the program achieved a level of success that has not been matched by any other high school in Ontario. The 2018-19 season had Bishop Ryan qualifying a record number of wrestlers (total of 28) to Ottawa for the 2019 OFSAA Wrestling Championships. The BR Wrestling Team completed its 50th season by once again being crowned 2019 OFSAA COMBINED TEAM CHAMPIONS and the girls team capturing its second consecutive OFSAA TEAM TITLE with the boys taking an OFSAA Silver Team medal.

The team's performance in OTTAWA concludes 50 YEARS OF WRESTLING for Bishop Ryan and in 50 years BR Wrestling has achieved the following at the OFSAA level:

10 Team Titles (6 boys, 2 girls, 2 combined) 14 Team Silver (12 boys, 1 girls, 1 combined) 8 Team Bronze (6 boys, 2 combined) giving BR Wrestling a total of 32 top 3 Team place finishes.

During the post season of 2019 BR witnessed the great achievement of Serena Di Benedetto who won the 2019 Canadian U17 Championships and represented Canada at the 2019 Pan-American Championships earning her second consecutive Pan-Am Bronze medal. Her most impressive result came a month later in Bulgaria where Serena competed at her first U17 World Championships where she was the highest placing Canadian defeating opponents from USA and Russia on her way to a World Bronze medal match where Serena fell short losing to Uzbekistan and finishing 5th.

Starting the next 50 years of BR Wrestling, the 2019-20 season was filled with excitement, great achievements and also great uncertainty. The uncertainty came with the world wide epidemic of Covid 19 and the uncertainty if OFSAA Wrestling would be cancelled. Fortunately the 2020 OFSAA Championships were held in Sault St Marie. The BR team for the third consecutive time in its history captures the OFSAA COMBINED TEAM GOLD, and after 26 years the Boys Team captured the OFSAA BOYS TEAM GOLD for an OFSAA record 7th Team Title and the girls team captured an OFSAA SILVER MEDAL. The BR wrestling team placed 8 athletes on the OFSAA Podium with our only Gold medallist won by Serena Di Benedetto her second consecutive OFSAA title.

This brings us to present day as the Bishop Ryan Wrestling program celebrates its 51st Season and has produced a total of 45 individual OFSAA Champions(an OFSAA record), 41 Silver Medalists, 30 Bronze Medalists, 23 Antique Bronze Medallists, 27 fifth place and 25 sixth place finishes, a total of 139 medals and 191 top 6 place finishes. The program continues to strive to introduce the sport of Freestyle Wrestling to young athletes in the hopes that some may experience the thrill of competing for Canada at the international level and hopefully the Olympics.