‘A Shot in the Dark': New Movie Portrays Inspirational Story of Blind St. John Vianney Wrestler Anthony Ferraro
There's a poignant moment in a new film about Anthony Ferraro, a blind wrestler who starred at St. John Vianney, in which Ferraro completes a stunning comeback in a county tournament match as an eighth-grader.
Ferraro was trailing 10-0 when he went for a throw and hit it, dropping his opponent to the mat for a pin. Following the win, the opposing boy's father approached Anthony's father, Bob, and delivered a stinging rebuke, which Bob discusses in the new documentary, "A Shot in the Dark."
"The father of the kid that lost came and said, 'Your kid should be in the Special Olympics. He shouldn't be here,''' said Chris Suchorsky, the director/producer of the documentary. "He said, 'My son lost because he has to maintain contact (by rule because of Anthony's blindness), and your kid should not be here.' It's a really emotional, sad part in the film because his father said, 'All my kid wanted to do was play with the other boys.'''
That is just one of the obstacles that Ferraro, now 21 years old, overcame during his wrestling career, which was highlighted by District titles in 2011 and 2012 at 160 for St. John Vianney, as well as a pair of fourth-place finishes in Region VI. His inspirational story was the subject of features by ESPN and others, and now is being told in cinematic form.
"I feel like in the end what I've done in high school has helped me be where I'm at today,'' he said.
"It's about going out and trying to be accepted in a world that doesn't want to accept you,'' Suchorsky said.
A Kickstarter fund has raised $63,000 with a stretch goal of $75,000 to help complete the film with a soundtrack, post production and official release. Suchorsky is hoping to get it shown at prominent festivals like Tribeca and Sundance, and Sony Pictures and ESPN have also expressed interest.
Ferraro graduated from St. John Vianney in 2013, but the story did not end there for the Spring Lake native, as he has endured plenty of hardship since coming up just short of being the first blind wrestler to qualify for the NJSIAA Individual Championships in Atlantic City since 1984.
Finding His Place
Ferraro has been legally blind since he was born but is able to discern changes in light and colors. His blindness is caused by the degenerative retinal condition of congenital amaurosis.
Growing up with four older siblings, he participated in various sports before falling in love with wrestling as a seventh-grader. His quest for acceptance went hand-in-hand with his drive to become a championship wrestler, which he honed under coach Mike Malinconico at Rhino Wrestling Club in Morganville.
"Seeing myself back then, I just thought I was being a normal kid,'' he said. "I didn't see it as anything different, but I guess it really was. I look back and realize how hard I worked."
Under head coach Pat Smith at St. John Vianney, who is Suchorsky's old Seton Hall wrestling teammate, he became one of only six wrestlers in program history to win two District titles. He came up just short of his ultimate goal of placing in the top three in Region VI and making it to Atlantic City, which still gnaws at him to this day.
During his entire wrestling career, his older brother, Oliver, was with him every step of the way. An aspiring filmmaker, he would shoot video of all of Anthony's matches, hoping to make it into a movie one day.
"He was my biggest fan, my best friend, and my inspiration in wrestling,'' Ferraro said.
In 2012, Smith sent Suchorsky a link to a sizzle reel of Anthony that Oliver had made with the hope of attracting a director to turn it into a film. Suchorsky reached out to him while Oliver was working in Los Angeles and the two eventually had a meeting, leading to Suchorsky shooting footage from Anthony's senior year for a film the two were going to co-direct and produce.
For two years, the footage sat unused as work and life got in the way for both of them. Finally, Suchorsky decided to pull the footage off the shelf in 2015 and get to work on it.
Following his career at St. John Vianney, Ferraro wrestled for The College of New Jersey for two years before suffering a bad concussion that ultimately made him decide to walk away from the sport and leave TCNJ.
In the summer of 2015, he moved to the town of Arcata in northern California with a group of friends, getting his first real taste of independence and enjoying his life. During that same time, Oliver, affectionately known as "Ollie" to his friends and family, was struggling with his own demons.
"I was living in California when a buddy woke me up and he just said 'Oliver,''' Anthony said. "I knew right away what happened. It was devastating."
On Aug. 28, 2015, Oliver died at 27 years old of a drug overdose, according to Anthony. Only days earlier, Suchorsky had finished the first 15 minutes of the film. Ollie never got to see it.
At Ollie's funeral, Suchorsky vowed to the Ferraros that he would complete the movie.
"At that point it felt like to me an obligation to really finish the story,'' he said.
Susan Ferraro promised to help Suchorsky complete the film about her son, helping him dig up old 16-millimeter films Ollie had shot of Anthony when he was young that would be included in the documentary. That's when disaster struck again.
In January 2016, Susan suffered a traumatic brain injury when she fell down the stairs at the family's Spring Lake house when no one else was home. She was in a pool of her own blood when Anthony and a friend found her at the bottom of the steps.
Susan was in a coma for a week and has spent the past year recovering.
"Her recovery is remarkable,'' Anthony said. "She's walking, talking, driving, and doing well enough to yell at me when I'm being annoying. We've been through a lot this past year. I went through a real rough patch of depression.
"After all that I was at a real standstill in my life, like, 'Where am I going, what am I going to do? God, why are you doing this to me?'''
Looking to the Future
The documentary not only has served as an inspirational time capsule of Anthony's tenure at St. John Vianney, it also has been therapeutic.
"Once my brother passed away and I saw the (movie) trailer, I was really blown away,'' he said. "To be honest with you, I put high school wrestling out of my mind for a little while. I really forgot how much hard work I put in. This has motivated me to get up every day and stop feeling sorry for myself."
In addition to being a guitarist who plays in a local band, Anthony has also found a calling as a motivational speaker. He has spoken to students at St. John Vianney and Donovan Catholic, as well as events for Catholic Athletes for Christ.
"I like to talk about overcoming adversity, the challenges in life, not feeling sorry for yourself and setting your goals high,'' he said.
The hope now is that the movie can be seen by a wide audience, the way Ollie had always wanted.
"The more I see this film and see all these people commenting on it, it just reminds me how much of a good person Ollie was,'' he said. "He had such an impact on people.
It kind of brings me a little closer to him. It's really good to actually face it and have to think about him and remember all the good stuff."
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; @Scott_Stump