FAIR LAWN, N.J.– Teaching cooking to teens has given Fair Lawn High School teacher Keith Stagg the chance to chase his passion: wrestling.
It doesn't hurt that Principal James Marcella is a former wrestler and coach.
"He thinks it's fabulous that a guy my age gets out on the mat and wins," said Stagg, 57, of Washington Township. "I'm allowed to pursue my crazy passions, but passions they are."
Stagg plans to wrestle in the USA Veteran's World Championships in Warsaw, Poland in October.
“I get a lot of pride wearing my USA singlet,” he said.
But what he loves the most is the camaraderie.
“After we wrestle four bouts, we can barely move our necks, but we laugh, we chuckle," Stagg said. "There's a lot of reminiscing."
Stagg started wrestling in 1978. His high school career "wasn't anything to brag about," but he was able to wrestle at the next level, competing for McDaniel College (formerly Western Maryland College).
Stagg took a hiatus from the sport while pursuing a culinary career. He worked 60-80 hour weeks as an executive chef in Cherry Hill.
“I had no time for my family," Stagg said. “It's the nature of the business.”
He eventually opened up a deli before moving to the corporate world.
"I made less money, but I had a life," he said.
Eventually, Stagg moved to Bergen County and went alternate route to become a teacher.
Working as an assistant wrestling coach at Pascack Hills, Stagg was convinced to get back on the mat by a member of the team, Mike Worthington.
It paid off as Stagg won gold in Las Vegas at the USA Veteran's National Championships despite trailing, 12-4, in his folkstyle finals bout.
He hit three straight takedowns to cut the deficit to 12-10. When his opponent tried to shoot, Stagg countered into a pin for the victory.
"Conditioning and the sheer will to win can go a long way," he said. "I know my conditioning is better than my opponents.”
Stagg had success on an even larger stage, winning a silver medal at the USA Veteran's World Championships in Athens, Greece back in October.