By Don Kovalchik
Editor’s note: Today’s article on Joe Downey is part six in a seven-part series profiling the 2012 Norwich Sports Hall of Fame induction class. The final installment, the 1937 football team, will run in two parts – Thursday and Friday – next week.
Throughout Norwich’s successful wrestling history, certain family names recur over generations. Some prominent ones are the Franklins, Manleys, Ryans, and Downeys. In the 1990’s, “Downey” appeared so often in the Norwich lineups, a Binghamton sportswriter noted Norwich had more Downeys than the company had dryer sheets. Scott Ryan, memorable for his mat achievements, states that in wrestling “... there is a family dynamic like no other sport. . . [that] exists because of tradition set forth by many wrestlers before us.”
This year’s youngest inductee, Joe Downey, followed in the footsteps of his older brothers. Matt and Drew, their father Jim, and grandfather Ed. Jim and Joe’s mother, Sue, undoubtedly experienced frequent living room and backyard matches involving the three brothers. Joe gave early promise of his potential in kindergarten as revealed in a photo of him wearing a singlet, taking a confident stance, and holding up his finger to indicate “number one.” When Joe was asked why he started wrestling, his terse reply was “survival!” He added that it was “... awesome to wake up at 5 a.m. to go to a tournament.” After a half dozen years of youth wrestling and becoming an Eastern National Champion in sixth grade, he was ready for more rigorous competition. Those friendly, brotherly brawls intensified his eagerness, and through the process of selective classification for top athletes, Joe was moved up to the high school level.
As a middleweight, rare for a seventh grader, Joe wrestled JV. Word spread quickly that he was only a JV wrestler because of a strong, deep Norwich squad. He won some varsity matches, including a 9-1 win over a proven Chenango Forks opponent on a night Matt and Drew won also. At season’s end, he handily won the 145-pound JV STAC championship.
By fall of ‘94, Joe was up a weight and into the varsity lineup. By season’s end he weighed 167 pounds and finished second in the STAC Championship to Justin Bowers of JC by 3-1. After his strong performance in the class tournament and upsetting a Deposit Decker in the semis at sectionals, this upstart eighth-grader brought the packed Broome County Arena to a frenzy by taking the senior Bowers into overtime before losing on criteria. Bowers became the state runner-up. Joe, meanwhile, had his sights on the states for himself.