By PETE FONTAINE
Perhaps the brief yet highly-important ceremony held recently inside the soccer complex building in Johnston spoke volumes about how strongly Rhode Island USA Wrestling Association officials feel about education, especially at the post-secondary level.
For the fifth time in as many years, the highly-regarded youth program presented its annual college scholarships that are named in honor of Rico Lomastro.
One of those two annual scholarships – which are valued at 500 dollars each – went to recent Johnston High School graduate James Baccala III, the son of James and Lisa Baccala of Johnston.
The second scholarship, which was also a 500-dollar grant, was presented to Joe Pelletier III, son of Joe and Colleen Pelletier of Coventry.
And neither of the Rico Lomastro Scholarships is strictly based upon an athlete’s performance on the wrestling mat.
“They have to be good students and citizens,” John Antonucci, who serves as head coach of Johnston Youth Wrestling, offered. “They have to write an essay and talk about personal interests, employment, career objectives, and about wrestling as a sport. We’re proud of both these outstanding young men and wrestlers.”
Moreover, as Antonucci noted after the pizza party presentation, “James and Joe both have great resumes and are outstanding young citizens on and off the mat.”
Baccala and Pelletier are also very much alike, as both teenagers had their high school careers cut short due to injuries in other sports.
Baccala developed into a champion caliber wrestler and compiled enviable records from the time he competed in RI USA Wrestling tournaments during the 2012-13 season. He was also a football starter for the Joe Acciardo-coached Panthers but sustained an injury in his senior year that resulted in cutting short his schoolboy mat career.
However, Baccala didn’t walk away from his favorite sport – and more importantly – his teammates. He cheered them on and even volunteered to help the JYW during tournaments doing whatever was needed.
The two-time Panther wrestling team captain was also a member of the track and field team in grades 9-11 as well as a member of the school’s Engineering Club and just this past month he was inducted into the JHS Chapter of the National Honor Society.
In his younger years, back when he was 12, he played youth football for the Johnston U-12 Panthers and has also been active in community volunteerism, helping clean up the bike path, working at the church football team and even helping out at various RI Wrestling USA events.
Academically, he ranked 47th in the 189 member JHS Class of 2018. He compiled a 3.39 GPA and in September he will enroll at the University of Rhode Island where he’ll major in Mechanical Engineering.
Until the college bell rings, Baccala will continue working part-time jobs, as he said, “to earn some extra money.”
He works for his father’s family business – Baccala Concrete of Johnston.
“I am usually in the garage helping the mechanic or making concrete blocks with left over concrete,” said Baccala.
As yet another example of just how ambitious he is, Baccala works at Cherry Hill Manor.
Baccala, who says he is a competitive person who loves playing sports, has always loved to practice so he could be a better team player. He also enjoys creating models on the computer and printing them in 3D. He also enjoyed learning about and working on his car.
“Those things,” he mused, tend to make me lose track of time when I do them because I enjoy them so much.”
Once he’s received his college degree, he plans on pursuing a career that affords the opportunity to be hands on with projects, just like he has done – in some cases – at his father’s business.
“Being able to go to my family business and experience the types of problems that are actually out there and the thought process that goes with projects helps me understand how things work,” he noted. “Finally, my family, especially my father, he pushed me in the right direction and taught me everything takes work and effort. He is a very intelligent man and any question I have he can most likely answer. For these reasons, I do feel prepared for whatever lies ahead.”
Representatives from local wrestling clubs throughout the state were on hand for the scholarship presentations headed by Chairperson Steve Keith. Other officials were: Chris Drance, Steve Ross, Rob Soares and Megan Hawkins.
Pelletier, meanwhile, is a former 5-time youth state champion, youth All-American who also ran cross county and wrestled at Coventry High School where he compiled a 3.62 GPA before his graduation this month. He plans to enroll at CCRI then after two years transfer to URI where he hopes to study Environmental Fish and Wildlife.