Richmond 'Works Hard' to Contend Again

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

February 8, 2016

RICHMOND – Every sport seems to have its glamour position.

Baseball and softball have their home run hitters. In football, it’s the quarterback. In volleyball, the player who collects the most spikes makes the highlight reel. And for those in track and field, the fastest runner receives all the glory.

There’s nothing pretty about wrestling. It’s a blue-collar sport where athletes compete like tigers in a cage. They eye their opponent, take a few steps, then make their move. Usually the strongest wins, but quickness often trumps strength – especially in the lower weight divisions.

One fact separates an average program from those that achieve success consistently, and that’s hard work. Sounds trite, but it’s true. Unless there is a wide variance in talent, the wrestler who out-works the opponent wins.

At Richmond, a town of about 6,000 people located in rural northern Macomb County, there’s no substitute for hard work. And for the school’s varsity wrestling coach Brandon Day, there is no tolerance for a lack of hard work.

The Blue Devils have won four of the last six Division 3 titles including last season. And despite losing 11 of their 14 starters, they are one of the top contenders again and No. 3 in the final regular-season Division 3 rankings.

“We have some talented kids,” Day said. “But we get the most out of them. It’s a total community effort here. Now I’m starting to get the kids who had dads and uncles wrestle here. We have one of the smallest schools (by enrollment) at the Finals, but we’ll have some of the biggest crowds.

“I guess we’re a lot like Lowell. It’s a community. They made the football Finals and their wrestling program is among the best. A lot of our kids play football, too. The kids want to be a part of it. There’s no selfishness.”

Day, a graduate of Imlay City, is in his 12th season as Richmond’s head coach. Growing up in a rural area, Day understands the mentality of participating in small-town athletics. The student you are competing with as a senior is the same person with whom you attended first grade.

One of five seniors on the team, Aaron Kilburn, is one of the three returning who started last season. As a freshman, he finished third at the 103-pound weight division. Kilburn was an MHSAA champion at 112 his sophomore year and, as a junior, finished second at 119. He competes at 125 this season.

The other two returners are Graham Barton at 135 and Cody Keller at 119. Both were MHSAA Finals qualifiers last season.

“We’re young,” Kilburn said. “We’ve developed the young guys as the season has gone on. Here everyone busts their butts every day. There are no slackers.

“A lot of the guys play football. I don’t. I just wrestle. We get a month off a year. The rest of the time we train in the offseason getting ready. I love the sport. It’s a passion. It’s just you and the other guy on the mat. Your teammates can’t help you then. It’s just you. I like working hard.”

The Blue Devils are improving.  They lost to Division 1 No. 6 Oxford in a close match early in the season and last week at the Macomb-Oakland Invitational held at Oxford, Richmond went 5-0 highlighted by a 44-24 victory over the host.

Richmond’s Team District is Feb. 10 at Algonac, and for Richmond to be successful the Blue Devils must have solid matches from underclassmen like Colton McKiernan (171), Alex Roberts (140) and Tyler Marino (215), all of whom are sophomores.

Day is hoping the demanding schedule he put together begins to pay off. He’s taken his team to tournaments in Defiance, Ohio; Fort Wayne, Indiana; and Cleveland to help the team prepare for the postseason.

“We like to have the kids go against the best as much as possible,” he said. “We beat (defending Division 4 champion) New Lothrop and we wrestled (Division 2 No. 1) Lowell in Ohio and lost.

“We’ve been fortunate here. The parents and the kids value hard work and accountability. Being a hard worker is still cool here.”

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) A Richmond wrestler (right) works for control in a match against New Lothrop at Central Michigan University last month. (Middle) Richmond athletes watch a teammate during the competition. (Click for more photos from

Imlay City's D'Ambrosio: Calm, Cool & Contending for School's 1st Mat Championship

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

February 7, 2024

Dominic D’Ambrosio’s answer when asked at 5 years old if he wanted to start wrestling was probably a clue for what was to come.

Bay & Thumb“I remember when my dad asked me if I wanted to wrestle,” D’Ambrosio said. “I think I just said, ‘Sure.’”

It’s not that D’Ambrosio would be nonchalant or aloof when it came to wrestling. He’s quite the opposite, actually. The work he’s put in has him unbeaten at 43-0 as a senior, ranked among the top four at 138 pounds in Division 3, and threatening to become the Spartans’ first Individual Finals champion.

The clue was that D’Ambrosio was going to be calm and cool on the mat, and have a grounded view of the sport off it, which has also helped him reach those heights.

“When I was younger, I got an award for being a cool cucumber – the Cool as a Cucumber award,” he said. “When I lose, I just look at it as I can get better from it. At the end of the day, it’s just a game. It’s serious, the work you put into it, but it’s not so serious. If you lose, you just want to get better. I just like to get the work done.”

To be fair, D’Ambrosio doesn’t do much losing.

He’s dropped just nine matches during his four-year career, compared to 159 wins, and a third of those losses came against Dundee four-time Finals champion Braeden Davis, who is now unbeaten and ranked No. 5 in the country at 125 pounds as a true freshman at Penn State.

D’Ambrosio, right, takes to the mat during his early years in the sport. D’Ambrosio was 14-0 as a freshman when COVID-19 ended the Spartans’ 2020-21 season short of the postseason. He placed third at the Finals as a sophomore, and fifth as a junior.

He has his eyes on the ultimate prize this year, and for a moment he allowed the thought to get him out of his even-keeled nature. But even that doesn’t last long.

“It would be pretty special,” he said. “I’ve been working hard for it. But, either way, I’m just going to go and leave it all out there.”

D’Ambrosio is the son of Imlay City coach Tony D’Ambrosio, which in some cases could create more pressure. But not this one. And a lot of that could be credited to Tony.

“We always tried to keep the pressure low and just have fun,” said Tony D’Ambrosio, who is in his 10th year at the helm in Imlay City. “We just focus on getting better. He’s always just wrestled. It’s just how he is. Dominic doesn’t even look at the brackets. He doesn’t find out who he’s wrestling until he shakes hands.”

What happens after they shake hands isn’t what one would expect from someone who could win that same Cool as a Cucumber award every year. 

D’Ambrosio’s matches typically don’t last long. Of his 159 wins, 105 have come by pin, including all three of his wins at the 2023 Individual Finals. As a junior, he set the school pin record at 41. This season, 32 of his 43 wins have been by pinfall.

Just four of his matches have gone beyond the first period this season, and only two of those have gone the distance. 

“This year, he’s really been turning it all on,” Tony D’Ambrosio said. “He didn’t start pinning a lot until later on into middle school and high school. It’s just basic stuff, not anything fancy. He’s a nice kid, but when he’s on the mat, he’s going to turn you over.”

D’Ambrosio, right, works to pin an opponent. Dominic isn’t a thrower, and his pins aren’t the result of catching an opponent in anything fluky. He’s just meticulous, and able to take advantage of any opening he’s given.

“I’m (working on a half Nelson) 100 times, 200 times during the week, so I’ll be able to hit it during the weekend,” he said. “If I got somebody’s head, nobody is getting out of it. I can just flow really well into a pinning sequence.”

As he pins his way through the season, D’Ambrosio is racking up awards. He’s been named Most Valuable Wrestler at four tournaments bouncing between 138 and 144, and at one point found himself ranked No. 1 by Michigan Grappler at 138.

As you would expect, he hasn’t allowed that to get to his head, and as his father puts it, “the only ranking that matters is the podium.”

With District tournaments this week, D’Ambrosio now can focus 100 percent of his efforts on getting to the top of that podium. But don’t expect the pressure to mount in his house or on the mat.

“It would be special,” Tony D’Ambrosio said. “But, again, as long as he goes out there and just does what he does, and does his best – it’s kind of like the NCAAs, you have to have a good weekend. It doesn’t dictate who you are. It would be awesome, and it’s a great goal to have. It would be a great goal to accomplish and be the first (from Imlay City). But wherever he ends up, I’m going to be proud of what he’s done.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Imlay City’s Dominic D’Ambrosio, right, wrestles to a fifth-place finish at 132 pounds in Division 3 last season at Ford Field. (Middle) D’Ambrosio, right, takes to the mat during his early years in the sport. (Below) D’Ambrosio, right, works to pin an opponent. (Top photo by High School Sports Scene; other photos courtesy of the D’Ambrosio family.)