Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Wrestling pinned down in parity

College football last fall, if you remember, was a collection of great teams, really good teams and a few not-so-good teams that, on occasion, played like pretty good teams and upset teams most felt they didn’t even belong on the field with. Get all that? Well, there are an awful lot of fans who feel those BCS people and their computers didn’t.
College wrestling has been like that this winter, although Iowa’s recent rumbles have stabilized the No. 1 portion of the rankings of late.
High school wrestling throughout Pennsylvania hasn’t been all that predictable this season, either, although injuries have pretty much cut Cumberland Valley’s power and charged up Northampton as the state’s elite team. But you could probably throw another 10 or so teams on the mats, match them up any which way you want three, four or five times and still get three, four or five different results
It’s been the same in District 1, especially in the Pioneer Athletic Conference – where, in no particular order, Owen J. Roberts beat Perkiomen Valley and lost to Spring-Ford and Boyertown; Boyertown beat Upper Perkiomen and Perkiomen Valley and lost to Spring-Ford; and Spring-Ford beat both Upper Perkiomen and Boyertown and lost to Perkiomen Valley.
Sounds like a word puzzle.
Boyertown (5-1) may seem to have an easier ride to the end of the regular-season schedule, and Spring-Ford (5-1) still has to deal with upstart Pottsgrove and Pottstown. Those three others – Owen J. Roberts, Perkiomen Valley and Upper Perkiomen – are just a notch in the loss column behind them, and never, at least not in the previous 21 years of the PAC-10, have there been five teams bunched within a loss of one another going into the final week of the season.
Just for the record, there’s never been such similar chaos around the district going into the last week or last week and a half of a season, either.
In the Bicentennial League, Bristol and Lower Moreland meet for the title Wednesday; in the Central League, Springfield-Delco has a one-match lead but three longtime rivals yet to deal with; in the Ches-Mont League, Downingtown West visits Downingtown East on Wednesday to settle the National Division affairs, and Great Valley still has to deal with Unionville next week for the American Division title; in the Del Val League, the lone remaining unbeatens – Academy Park and Sun Valley – meet Wednesday; and in Suburban One, only Council Rock South has a grip on any of the division titles because Quakertown has a one-match lead on Methacton but co-leader Plymouth-Whitemarsh looming on the schedule next week in the jumbled American Conference race, Pennridge visits Neshaminy on Wednesday to settle the National Conference issue.
Maybe more like the aforementioned college football and college wrestling. There may not be that great, great team, or the one that stands over and above the rest, but there sure are a lot of pretty good teams … and a number of other good teams who, depending on their health and match-ups, are capable of knocking off those pretty good, or even great, teams.
Yep, sure sounds like parity.

Wrestler of the Week honors go to Owen J. Roberts’ Connor McCormick, who came back from a 17-day layoff due to an illness and recorded his 99th and 100th career wins Saturday during the Octorara Invitational. McCormick is just the fifth Wildcat to reach the milestone.
Coach of the Week honors go to Spring-Ford’s Tim Seislove and Upper Perkiomen’s Tom Hontz. Seislove guided the Rams to a 32-28 victory over Boyertown and drew even with the Bears atop the Pioneer Athletic Conference standings. It was Seislove’s first win over the Bears in his nine years as the Rams’ head coach, and Spring-Ford’s first win over the Bears since a 48-25 victory back in 1997. Hontz led the Indians to a 34-11 upset of Springfield-Delco in the opening round of the District 1-AAA Team Duals.

Pottstown will be shooting for its third straight District 1-Class AA Team Duals title when it meets PAC-10 rival Phoenixville in the semifinals 1 p.m. Saturday in Strom Gymnasium. Head coach Eric Dusko and the Trojans already own a victory over John Tornetta and his Phantoms this season (50-21 on Jan. 12). If they duplicate the effort, they’ll face either Octorara or Springfield-Montco in the 4 p.m. final that determines who represents the district in the state tournament.
In the Class AAA quarterfinals – which get under way Friday night (6:00) – the upper-half of the bracket features two rematches from earlier in the year, while the bottom-half will showcase a pair of first-time meetings.
Up top, No. 1 Council Rock South takes on No. 8 Hatboro-Horsham. The Hawks defeated the Hatters, 55-15, on Jan. 19; and No. 12 Downingtown West lines up against No. 13 Upper Perkiomen, which pulled out a 36-33 decision over the Whippets back on Dec. 12.
The bottom of the bracket has No. 3 Quakertown taking on No. 6 Pennsbury, and No. 10 Pennridge facing off against No. 2 Council Rock North.
The top three teams in AAA qualify for state duals, with the winner earning a bye into the quarterfinals Friday afternoon, Feb. 8 in Hershey. The runner-up takes on the District 12 champion and the third-place finisher has the District 11 runner-up in next Tuesday’s opening round.
In Class AA, only the champion advances. Unlike the past three years, though, District 1’s champion will not earn a bye into the quarterfinals. This time it will open next Tuesday against the District 3 runner-up.
* * *
Daniel Boone, which has made significant strides the past two seasons under head coach Matt Palmer, was denied a spot in the District 3-AAA Duals after losing to Wilson in the opening round of the Berks County Team Tournament last weekend.
Palmer’s team won its second straight Berks Division II to qualify for the program’s fourth appearance in the county duals.
The Blazers will have four individuals with 25 or more victories when they head into the District 3-AAA Section 4 Tournament on Feb. 16. They are Eddie Lockowitz (103), Francis Healy (140), Josh Sheriff (189) and Tyler Swartz (285).

Methacton has already clinched its District 1-record 35th consecutive winning season, but the Warriors will have to wait until next year to pin down the school’s 500th victory. The total is at 497 with only two matches – Wissahickon and Plymouth-Whitemarsh – remaining on the regular-season schedule.
The impressive streak began in 1973-74 under then fifth-year coach Dennis Kellon, who would coach 14 of the 35 teams and go 169-47-2. The late Nelson Stratton coached 12 seasons and was 173-31-2; Chris Lloyd was 36-10 in three seasons; Tony Haley, currently an assistant, was 22-10 in two seasons; and current head coach Bill Moser is 50-22 in his fourth season.
In other words, since the streak began, Methacton has compiled a 450-120-4 record.

Spring-Ford’s Ryan Kemmerer continues to climb the area’s career win chart. The junior 140-pounder now alone in 36th place with his 120 wins and could go into the postseason with 123, which would tie him with Spring-Ford graduate Mike Moley and Upper Perkiomen’s Sam Walters. … Pottstown’s Seth Ecker (118), Methacton’s Jonathan Hammond (117), Daniel Boone’s Tyler Swartz (108) and McCormick (100) are the area’s only other active wrestlers on the chart. ... OJR’s Will Bentley (91), Daniel Boone’s Josh Sheriff (90) and Spring-Ford’s Alan Gauger (88) could reach the milestone in the postseason.
Underclassmen who will not reach the 100-win mark this season but are on pace to pass the milestone next season are OJR’s Nick Fuschino, St. Pius’ Bobby Burns, Upper Perkiomen’s Jared Bennett and Mike McStravick, and Boyertown’s Tim Feroe, all juniors, as well as Boyertown teammates Alex Pellicciotti and Matt Malfaro, both sophomores. Burns has a chance to erase Craig Owsiany’s school record of 90 wins and became the first Pius wrestler to reach 100 career victories.

The individual postseason grind doesn’t get under way for another three weeks. But when they unroll the mats at Great Valley High School on Feb. 16, it’ll mark the 30th and 25th anniversaries of two of the most memorable weekend whippings in the long history of District 1’s Section Four wrestling.
Back in 1978, Phoenixville – under head coach Lonny Moore – swept half of the 12 weight classes, getting gold medals from Joe Holland (98), Kurt Anderson (132), Steve McGovern (138), Joe Tornetta (145), Paul Bearden (155) and Joe Parry (185). McGovern would go on to finish fourth in the state.
In 1983, Downingtown – under head coach and former Pottstown standout Alray Johnson – swept half of the 12 individual weight classes, including the first five, after getting gold medals from Bruce Tharp (98), Mike Seese (105), Steve Caggiano (112), John Lucerne (119), Bill Gillespie (126) and John Browning (185). Three weeks later, Tharp, Gillespie and Browning would finish sixth, fifth and second, respectively, at states.

Ridley’s 130-pound Derek Sinclair last weekend became the first wrestler in the Green Raiders’ long history to reach 100 career victories. … The big match in District 11 last week saw Pennsylvania’s No. 1 ranked Northampton erase a 19-12 deficit by taking the final four bouts to defeat Easton, 28-19. Eight of the 14 bouts were decided by two points or less and another two were decided by three points. ... OJR’s Danny Mongold also finished third at 130 pounds during last weekend’s Rustin Rumble. The Mercury regrets the omission.
Don Seeley is The Mercury’s sports editor. His wrestling column appears every Tuesday in the Mercury throughout the PIAA Championships.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Critics deserve to take a dive

The wrestling experts were hooting and hollering again late last Wednesday and all day and night Thursday. And, of course, all but one or two hid behind nameless messages on voice mails here and there and creative screen names in a couple of the sport’s often pompous forums.
It wasn’t long after last Wednesday evening’s Pioneer Athletic Conference match between Spring-Ford and Perkiomen Valley was over when the analysts and antagonists were off and running from their mouths and computer keyboards.
Their observations and criticisms were squarely pinned on the mat official – his failure to whistle anyone (mostly Perkiomen Valley wrestlers) for stalling, and one particular call at 145 pounds that ended in Perkiomen Valley’s Jacob Beitler winning by disqualification over Spring-Ford’s previously unbeaten Ryan Kemmerer.
The wrestling wizards didn’t stop there, either. Oh no, some chastised Beitler for not getting up, others accused head coach Tim Walsh for advising Beitler not to get up and, well, blah-blah-blah…
First of all, wrestling officials are getting beat up more and more for making the wrong call at the right time or the right call at the wrong time. Now that doesn’t make much sense, does it? Well, neither does 95 percent of critics’ endless bashing. Yet there still doesn’t seem to be any long lines at the officials’ application window.
Personally, the rules that define stalling leave a lot to the imagination. Put 10 people in the same room to read them and you’re apt to get 5-10 different interpretations.
That’s why there may – I repeat, may – be the “inconsistency” in officiating that wrestling fans have often alluded to.
Let’s not try to kid anyone, though.
Officials, umpires and judges in all sports are going to be criticized until the stripes on their shirts fade away and their whistles don’t whistle anymore.
Wednesday night’s call against Kemmerer for dropping Beitler was the correct call. It was not intentional. Repeat, it was not intentional. Nonetheless, before or after a whistle a wrestler must have his opponent under control when bringing him to the mat. Kemmerer didn’t, Beitler hit his head on the mat and, after the two minutes of allotted injury time, the Perkiomen Valley trainer decided Beitler was unable to continue.
As reported earlier this season and again after the match, Beitler suffered a severe concussion during the preseason and missed nearly three weeks of wrestling before he was cleared to come back. And come back he did, as anyone would in any sport, even though one critic blamed Walsh for allowing him to wrestle again.
Excuse me? If a running back injures his knee but goes through painful rehabilitation to get back in the lineup, should the football coach refrain from putting him in the backfield for fear he’ll hurt that knee again?
If a pitcher is ailing from tendonitis, goes on the disabled list to rest his arm and finally gets clearance to return, should the manager refuse to put him back on the mound for fear he’ll end up ruining his career?
And how about the Flyers’ Simon Gagne, who suffered a concussion that kept him out of the lineup for quite some time. Did head coach John Stevens refuse to put him back on the ice for fear he’d get checked into the boards and suffer yet another concussion?
Athletes don’t quit, at least real athletes don’t, because of their commitment to the game they play, their passion to compete and their determination to win.
So if anyone took a dive, or deserved to take one, it was those who criticized Beitler, Walsh and the Perkiomen Valley wrestling program in general.
Beitler has been wrestling forever, and would’ve been in the practice room the day after he suffered a concussion if he was permitted to do so. Throughout his four years in the Vikings’ program, he’s been nothing less than a class act. The same can be said of Walsh, who didn’t utter a word to Beitler during the injury time.
Beitler didn’t get back up to finish his bout with Kemmerer because a very qualified athletic trainer determined he wasn’t ready to resume wrestling. He didn’t wrestle Saturday when Perkiomen Valley defeated Wissahickon, either.
Still, a few people criticized Beitler even more for being a bit lively after the Vikings clinched the match against Spring-Ford. That had nothing to do with the two minutes he was on his back on the mat under the supervision of a trainer thirtysome minutes earlier. And knowing it was the first time Perkiomen Valley had ever beaten Spring-Ford in wrestling as Beitler and everyone else on his side of the mat did, well, it would take a lot more than a bang to the head to keep anyone from enjoying that moment.
The bottom line is that it was an unfortunate incident … nothing more, nothing less.
And lost in all the experts’ hooting and hollering was how Kemmerer, the Spring-Ford coaching staff and its wrestlers, as well as Walsh and his team, acted during and after the incident – with class.

Wrestler of the Week honors go to Daniel Boone’s Tyler Swartz, who became the first Blazer to pin down 100 career wins in the history of the program. The 285-pound Swartz, 25-3 on the season, accepted a forfeit during last Wednesday’s decision of Exeter to reach the milestone.
Coach of the Week honors go to Spring-Ford’s Tim Seislove, who brought the Rams back from that disappointing loss against Perkiomen Valley on Wednesday to defeat Upper Perkiomen on Saturday to remain in the PAC-10 title chase.

The Hill School, under first-year head coach Jesse Young, had one of its strongest tournament showings in a long time after finishing in a tie for third place in last weekend’s Cadet Invitational at Valley Forge Military Academy.
Also making a quiet but noticeable showing was West-Mont Christian Academy. The Wings are coached by former Phoenixville High School and Baptist Bible College standout Jason Meister, who was a two-time PIAA medalist and four-time NCWA All-American, including a pair of national titles in 2000 and 2003.

Two of the area’s most talented individuals – Spring-Ford’s Ryan Kemmerer and Methacton’s Jonathan Hammond – are now in the same 140-pound weight class. Kemmerer (23-1, 118-24 career) has never met Hammond (26-2, 112-27), who dropped from 145 just over a week ago.
The 135-pound weight class could be a feature in itself when Pottstown hosts Spring-Ford on Feb. 6. The Trojans’ Eric Daniels (14-2) appears to be settled in at 135, where he’ll likely get the Rams’ Gareth Cooper (19-7).

Kemmerer, a junior, is tied for 42nd on the area’s career win list with his 118 victories. He is tied with with Boyertown graduate Mike Reish, whose father is an assistant on the Bears’ staff.
Pottstown senior Seth Ecker (116), coming off a huge week with wins over Boyertown’s Matt Malfaro and Kennett’s Kyle Bove, is tied for 46th with former Boyertown state champion and current Bloomsburg senior Mike Spaid.
Hammond (112) is in a five-way tie for 53rd place.
Owen J. Roberts’ Connor McCormick, with 98 career wins, is expected back in the lineup this week. The Wildcats host St. Pius X on Wednesday, then travel to the Bayard Rustin Tournament in West Chester on Saturday. Teammate Will Bentley has 87 career wins, one more than Spring-Ford’s Alan Gauger.

There's always tomorrow

Thank goodness there’s a tomorrow in wrestling, because yesterday – or last weekend if you will – was a very forgettable one for the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s powers as well as District One’s upper echelon.
There were a handful of positives, among them the significant steps forward made by Perkiomen Valley and Pottsgrove, the renewed punch in some Suburban One lineups, and the continued improvement of a couple of programs in Delaware County. But none of that could overshadow what a devoted (and longtime) District One fan on Monday said was “ugly déjà vu all over again.”
Even Yogi couldn’t come up with that one.
But it sure sounded appropriate after Boyertown went winless at the Cumberland Valley Duals, Spring-Ford went winless at the Parkland Duals, and Upper Perkiomen was thumped by Easton. If you’re counting, or even remotely interested, the three teams that have owned the PAC-10 wrestling mat the last 15 years were a combined 0-11 on Saturday.
Yes, Boyertown was banged up a bit and competed in a very, very good tournament. But head coach Pete Ventresca couldn’t have been pleased with the end result. Spring-Ford, on the other hand, was healthy and competed in a very good tournament. But, as head coach Tim Seislove said afterward, it was the “worst” showing in his nine years with the program and there were “no excuses” for it. And, yes, Upper Perkiomen is rebuilding, reloading or whatever you care to call it. But head coach Tom Hontz doesn’t accept losing, especially 29-point losses, even to a state power like Easton.
There wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of hooting and hollering last weekend from the Council Rock South and Great Valley seats, either. And if you go back earlier in the week, a lot of people are still trying to break down Bensalem’s decision of Pennsbury – the Owls’ first win over the Falcons in 10 years.
Mind you, the tide isn’t exactly turning in the PAC-10 or District One. Not quite yet.
But Boyertown can ill-afford a similar showing Wednesday night at Pottstown or Saturday morning at Owen J. Roberts. And Spring-Ford can ill-afford a similar showing Wednesday night at Perkiomen Valley or Saturday afternoon at Upper Perkiomen … not if either expects to pin down a PAC-10 championship.
Well, Council Rock North is certainly threatening Council Rock South’s neighborhood reign over in Newtown, and they’ll get together Wednesday night for their annual backyard brawl. Quakertown is looking like some of those powerful Panther teams of the not-so-distant past, and is considered the favorite going into Thursday’s showdown against defending champion Methacton, which has won or shared 19 of the last 26 Suburban One titles. And check the memory banks to recall the last time the Central League had a three-team race with Penncrest, Springfield-Delco and Radnor doing the running. Delco and Radnor will see who keeps pace with who when they meet Wednesday night.
If all that sounds the least bit confusing, it is.
But there is a silver lining … make that silver linings.
The Pioneer Athletic Conference title likely won’t be decided until the schedule winds down at the end of the month. Throw out past results and whatever intimidation may still exist because of them (and have everyone healthy), and you’ll get a genuine, down-to-the-wire race between Boyertown, Owen J. Roberts, Perkiomen Valley, Pottstown, Spring-Ford and Upper Perkiomen.
And Sunday morning, when the District One Steering Committee sits down to come up with the seeds for next week’s District 1-AAA Team Duals Championship, bet the house each and every one of the coaches and committee officials will be on caffeine highs and hoarse before they finish penciling in the brackets and heading home.
Yep, thank goodness there’s a tomorrow in wrestling.

Wrestler of the Week honors go to Daniel Boone’s Josh Sheriff, who won the gold medal at 189 pounds during last weekend’s Berks County Interscholastic Individual Tournament. In the final, Sheriff decisioned Brandywine Heights’ Brad Stoudt – ranked No. 1 in District 3-AA – and was named the Outstanding Wrestler.
Coach of the Week honors go to Perkiomen Valley’s Tim Walsh, who helped the Vikings to a second-place finish at their own Bill Fretz Duals. PV lost only to undefeated Mount Union, listed as No. 1 in the most recent District 6-AA rankings.

Wrestler’s behavior raises larger questions

Just over a week ago, an area wrestler was tossed out of a tournament and later cited with assault of an official – a first-degree misdemeanor – and misdemeanor disorderly conduct, charges that will be handled by juvenile authorities.
Before the incident was reported in a Lancaster County newspaper, wrestling fans throughout District 1 and throughout the state were flogging and blogging … or, in plain old English, lashing out with just about every negative comment imaginable in a number of wrestling site forums.
First and foremost, no one should condone the type of behavior that led to the wrestler’s disqualification. No one should question why he was charged, either, at least not after hearing the official explanation of the charges given by police or after reading the police report.
And, yes, his coaches had no other choice than to remove the wrestler from his team.
In other words, there are no ifs, ands or buts about it. The individual’s behavior on the mat, and later off the mat, was unacceptable. And he must be held accountable for all of those actions.
However, there is one issue about this incident – and others similar to it – that I (and I’m not alone) wonder about.
When did so many people, actually a frightening majority of our society, become such experts on virtually anything and everything about sports, not to mention authorities on the human behavior of the athletes who play sports?
Perhaps it’s all the talk shows we watch on television or listen to on radio. Of course they can be convincing, with all the celebrity hosts and endless cast of former all-pros who do indeed know something about athletic competition. But most if not all of their thoughts, ideas, opinions and criticisms relate to the professional and high-level collegiate games.
So, do we apply those same patterns of thought to high school athletes? Do we put the high school athletes under the same microscope that we do the professional and high-profile college athletes?
Can we?
Should we?
Two good questions, really.
In light of how we’ve progressed as a sports society (which I and others still hate admitting) – and how we put so much pressure anymore on young athletes to not only play but win at all costs – the answers are an emphatic yes from most.
But not from all.
What happened just over a week ago was the result of a very immature and young student-athlete – a minor – with personal problems, or issues as the experts say.
Tossing his name around and revealing every little temper tantrum or shortcoming he’s had in his short life on Web sites and in forums, playing judge and jury, and demanding that his coach and school district do this and that … well, that’s very callous, and arguably one of the reasons why the wrestler responded with a few unnecessary responses of his own.
The individual does indeed have personal issues, one of which is overcoming the loss of his mother from cancer. He’s been served his punishment, and will have to deal with additional legal punishment, too.
It’s nothing that anyone else should feel good about, either. But it is something that everyone else who is a fan of wrestling and high school sports in general should truly hope helps the young man turn his life around.