Boonton Wrestler Brings Home First State Title After 30 Years

By Evan Wechman


Joe Fongaro is not a household name across the country.  However, the senior Boonton High School wrestler is certainly well known in his hometown. He is also gaining recognition in the state as a top wrestler in all of New Jersey.  As for opposing wrestlers, they know him now if they had not previously.

This past March in Atlantic City, Fongaro overcame all odds and beat heavily favored Ty Whalen of Clearview Regional High School to capture the 144-pound state championship.  This victory not only made the wrestler a state champion, but he became the first state wrestling champion for Boonton in 30 years.

Fongaro, who will be wrestling for Rutgers University in the fall is proud of bringing the state championship back to Boonton. He said “it means everything to me.  All the support is special.”

Fongaro has indeed been making a name for himself and putting the spotlight on both his teammates and the school. Recently, there have been a lot of celebrations throughout the town and a long parade was thrown immediately after the victory.

The state champion however has remained humble as he knows there is more work involved in the future. He wants to continue to excel at Rutgers where he will be facing stiff competition in the Big Ten Conference. 

Fongaro is not taking anything for granted.  He said, “I’m just trying to get better every day and see where that puts me.”

To excel as a collegiate wrestler, Fongaro is going to have to lean on the lessons he learned while wrestling at Boonton.  Besides his never-ending work attitude, the mental part of his game is tremendous, and should propel him forward.

At the state championships, even more experienced athletes may have gotten cold feet from the intensity of the moment.

Fongaro said he felt a few butterflies when the state tournament began, but with each match he “gained momentum.” Before the finals, many on-goers thought he would be overmatched by the returning champion, but Fongaro did not break a sweat.  

The moment was perfect for this Boonton Bomber.  He said, “I wasn’t really that nervous, but I was just excited to put on a great show.”  

Fongaro understands he must keep his mind focused on the task at hand.  Back in eighth grade, Fongaro was also a member of the football team, but believed his future was to be a competitive wrestler. To reach this level, he has stuck to wrestling at school and at various club contests throughout the state.

According to Boonton Athletic Director and Wrestling Coach David Hughen, he is not a bit surprised at the success the young athlete has attained. “Joe is a really good kid and I could tell from day one, he had something special.” The coach has been impressed with the young grappler’s drive, work ethic, and his mental focus.

“The mental part is huge,” Hughen said.

Fongaro loves the sport and has been involved in wrestling for much of his young life.  It also seems this sport runs in his family.  His older brother Dan was a high school wrestler who finished fifth in the state tournament in 2018.  He is now competing at Columbia University. The younger Fongaro said that when he watched his older brother compete years ago, he “wanted to be just like him.”

His younger sister Julia also made a name for herself this year as she had a promising finish at the states’ tournament as a freshman for Boonton.

Joe Fongaro may cause his family’s last name to be more popular if he continues to beat opponents next year at Rutgers University. He intends on wrestling at roughly the same weight level that he is at now. He knows he must stay fit when he wrestles champions from the likes of Indiana and Michigan.

 He has a big repertoire of moves on the mat to take down the competition but said his two favorite moves are single leg takedowns and tilts. He uses the former to attack either of his opponent’s legs while tilts are his way of turning his competitor around. This leaves the opponents back exposed leading to another exciting victory by the state champion.

This Boonton Bomber may very well have a promising future at the collegiate level if he continues to practice hard and keep his mental edge. The whole town will be rooting for him to excel at the next level in New Brunswick, but as Fongaro said “nothing is guaranteed.”


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