Brian Antonelli, former interim head wrestling coach at the U.S. Naval Academy, is returning to his prep alma mater, Blair Academy, as the top-ranked program’s new mat coach, the New Jersey school announced Monday.
Antonelli, who had won a national prep title at Blair in 1993, had headed up the Navy wrestling program during the 2013-14 season, taking the helm when long-time coach Bruce Burnett announced his retirement in fall 2013 until the Annapolis academy announced the hiring of ex-Air Force coach Joel Sharratt earlier this month.
Prior to serving as Navy’s interim head coach, Antonelli had been on the coaching staff at Annapolis for eight seasons. Before that, he was coach at The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey.
For the past half-century, Blair has ranked as one of the nation’s top prep wrestling programs, having won 32 straight Prep National titles in a row from 1980 up until March, when it finished second behind Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Seminary. Despite that second-place finish, Blair remained ranked as the No. 1 prep wrestling program in the country by amateur wrestling websites Flowrestling and Intermat.
The Blair, N.J. school has produced many highly accomplished wrestlers, including Ed Ruth, who just became Penn State’s first three-time national champ at the 2014 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in March, and Steve Mocco, 2008 Olympian and two-time NCAA heavyweight champ (first at University of Iowa, then at Oklahoma State) who now competes as a professional in mixed martial arts.
Antonelli becomes the fourth head coach at Blair in as many years, succeeding Solomon Fleckman, who had been named to that position at the start of the 2014 season. Charles Danhof served as interim head coach in 2013, replacing long-time coach Jeff Buxton.
According to the school’s press statement, Fleckman will continue to play a key role working with Antonelli and the wrestling team, while focusing on his title as Blair’s Director of Studies, a new position at the school. The school’s announcement describes the decision to select a new coach to be “mutual.”
"One of the things that we knew from the get-go was that succession planning is a big deal," Fleckman said in describing Blair's efforts to replace Buxton. "When he left a little abruptly it was a tough transition. So when they hired me, I pretty much pledged to help them find my replacement as soon as I could... We went ahead and made the switch right now while we could get our hands on a guy like Brian Antonelli."
“Our plan had always been for Coach Fleckman to work with us to identify a long-term wrestling coach,” said Chris Fortunato, Head of School at Blair. “We are grateful for his stewardship and support in helping Blair take this next important step as we continue to develop the talent and excellence needed to secure the wrestling program’s future.”
“Coach Antonelli’s background in supporting top athletes in the college recruitment process and his excellent leadership experience will allow us to further develop our student-athletes to be their best, on and off the mat,” said Fortunato.
"I am honored to lead Blair Academy’s wrestling program,” Antonelli said. “Preparing Blair wrestlers to meet the challenges and opportunities they will face in college and in life is a great responsibility, one to which I am very much looking forward. The level of support from Blair’s faculty, staff, administration and the larger community is truly amazing. I am grateful to Head of School Chris Fortunato and Athletic Director Jim Stone for this opportunity, and my family and I are excited about joining the Blair family."
Antonelli brings impressive athletic credentials to Blair.
The New Jersey native graduated from the McDonough School in 1992 where was the Maryland State Wrestling Champion at 160 pounds, according to his Navy coaching biography. He went on to spend a year at Blair Academy in 1993, winning the 160-pound prep state title.
At the U.S. Naval Academy, Antonelli earned letters as a wrestler in 1996 and 1997. As a senior, he was the recipient of the H. McCoy Memorial Award, given to the midshipman who displays the "highest degree of athletic leadership and competitive spirit."
Antonelli graduated from the Naval Academy in 1997 and was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in the Marine Corps.