State crown for Wantagh's Clem

Late heroics give Joseph Clem 131-pound title


It took until the final seconds of Joseph Clem’s Wantagh wrestling career to write a storybook ending at the New York State Championships.

Trailing by one point with under 30 seconds remaining in the third period of the state 131-pound finals last Saturday night, the Wantagh senior executed a reversal to go up by a point and tacked on another from an illegal clasp for a dramatic 5-3 victory against previously unbeaten Samson McKissick-Staley of Pittsford. The comeback win against the top-seeded McKissick-Staley assured that Clem would end his high school wrestling career as a state champion after previously falling just short of the top of the podium.

“I was shocked at first and it didn't even feel real,” Clem said. “It's been a long-term goal of mine to win the state title and it's a perfect way to cap off my high school career.” 

The late scoring rally by Clem was followed by preventing McKissick-Staley from breaking free over the match’s final 13 seconds. The state championship at MVP Arena in Albany came a year after Clem (57-3) was runner-up in the 126-pound finals when he dropped a 4-2 decision to Jaden Crumpler of Niagara Falls in the 126-pound finals. He placed third in the states as a sophomore at 115. 

“He has trained very, very hard for this,” said longtime Wantagh wrestling coach Paul Gillespie. “He did the weights, the running and all the extras that helped make him a state champion.”

Clem got the chance to enjoy the championship moment with his twin brother, Anthony Clem, who placed fourth at 124 pounds. The Clem brothers will both be competing on the collegiate level at West Virginia University and Anthony was in Joe’s corner to help push him through to the title. 

“I heard him in the last 15 seconds when he collapsed yell ‘free move’ since he was right next to the mat,” said Clem of his younger brother's presence in the bout’s closing sequence. “There was a big hug for him after the match.” 

Senior Jesse Vanorden also earned All State honors with a third place finish at 152 pounds. The Air Force commit knocked off Brentwood’s Jason Kwaak, 12-5 in the consolation finals after dropping a 3-1 overtime division in the state semifinals to Griffin Laplante of St. Francis in western New York. It marked the second straight high podium finish for Vanorden, who placed third at 145 as a junior. 

The Clem brothers and Vanorden reached the state championship stage after winning county titles nearly two weeks earlier at Hofstra’s Mack Sports Complex. Junior Shareef McMillanm also qualified for states at 170 after battling back for second place at counties following a semifinal defeat.

Clem credits much of his wrestling success at Wantagh to Gillespie, who has produced six state champions since taking over the program in the 2011-12 season.

“He is the wrestling guru and nobody knows more about wrestling than him,” said Clem of his head coach. “He’s been through this with me the whole journey and helped prepare me for the long season and winning a state title.”