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.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Get with the program

OXFORD – Take a glimpse up and down the opening-round brackets for tonight’s AAA Southeast Regional and you’ll see quite a few familiar names. There’s a fair share of experienced wrestlers, the juniors and seniors with long and detailed (as well as very impressive) resumés. There are also quite a number of freshmen and sophomores who, in a very short time, have established themselves because of their competitive nature and success on the mat.

But if there is a common thread that links the eventual regional champions, it’s the schools they represent, or the programs they’re part of.

Over the past 10 years, 55 of the 136 regional champions have come from just five different schools. In other words, five schools – or a mere eight percent of the District 1 schools in the Class AAA enrollment classification - have accounted for just under 41 percent of the gold medalists. And if you’d like to stretch it just a bit, to 11 schools, you’ll find they have accounted for 87 of those 136 regional champions. In other words, 11 schools – or only 18 percent of the District 1 schools in Class AAA – have accounted for 64 percent of the gold medalists.

The Top Five the past 10 years? They have been Upper Perkiomen (18), North Penn (12), Council Rock South (10), Quakertown (8) and Pennsbury (7). The other six in that same stretch have been the former Downingtown High School and Norristown with six each, and Boyertown, Neshaminy, Owen J. Roberts and Spring-Ford with five apiece.

And if you happen to think those numbers are a bit overwhelming, consider the latter statistic would jump all the way up to just under 72 percent if you add in the seven other regional champions since 1999 who wrestled for Council Rock (before the split to North and South) and for Downingtown East and West.

The bottom line is this: There has been a small but nonetheless very elite group of programs dominating the top rung of the awards

podium at the Southeast Regional the last 10 years (if not longer). And there is a noticeable, if not glaring gap between the best and all of the rest. Few realize there are 21 schools that have not had even one regional champion the last 10 years.

It’s true that good teams – or programs – come and go in high school sports. Most like to call it cycles.

But peruse the local and district history books and you aren’t likely to find as dominant a run – or as long a cycle - in any sport over the past 10 years as what has been ongoing in District 1 wrestling … at least at this juncture of the season, when true district champions step up to that top rung of the podium.

Still, Upper Perkiomen veteran head coach Tom Hontz, whose crowning achievements go well beyond just those district-best 18 regional champions since 1999, truly believes the current cycle may be winding down just a bit.

“I see it … I feel the shift is on,” Hontz said earlier this week. “It’s no secret we followed what Norristown and (head coach) Steve Harner were doing back in the mid-90s, which was developing a midget program and increasing the (competition-level) of your schedule. They were the ones who introduced us to the tournaments in Virginia, like the Battlefield Duals.

“And more and more teams are following the same mode now. Boyertown has been doing it for years, and look how great their program is. You can see changes now at Owen J. Roberts, at Perkiomen Valley … and that’s just in our (Pioneer Athletic Conference) league. It’s happening around the district, and especially among a lot of the Delaware County schools.”

Unlike some coaches, as well as their devoted followings, Hontz doesn’t subscribe to the theory that only big schools are capable of producing big-time programs, either.

And regardless of enrollments, change doesn’t happen overnight.

“It does take time,” explained Hontz, who didn’t have enough wrestlers to fill his lineup or enough fans watching to fill the visitors’ side of the Upper Perkiomen gymnasium when he took over the Indians’ program. “You can schedule the best competition there is, but if you don’t have the horses…

“And (the horses) are bred early on. It all starts in the midget or youth programs, and it continues on up into the middle schools. You have to have good people at every level, too.”

Locally, Boyertown and Upper Perkiomen have had very respectable youth programs for a number of years. Spring-Ford has put together a solid program in recent years, too. And lately, or so it seems, Owen J. Roberts and Perkiomen Valley have been making considerable waves in youth tournaments. And around the district, it’s no secret just how popular – and successful – the youth programs have been, past and present, at Council Rock, Neshaminy, Norristown, North Penn, Quakertown and Pennsbury.

Those efforts have been reflected at the junior high school and middle school levels, too. At the annual Southeastern Pennsylvania Junior High/Middle School Tournament two weeks ago, it was Spring-Ford, Owen J. Roberts and Upper Perkiomen finishing one, two, three … well in front of the rest of the 27-team field.

“More and more of the junior highs and middle schools have amped up their schedules,” Hontz noted. “You can see the results. But the big thing is that they prepare the kids for what we do up at (the high school) level.”

So, are things really changing on District 1’s wrestling horizon?

“Absolutely,” Hontz said.

We’ll see (check back here in 2019 for our next 10-year review).


Upper Perkiomen’s Mike McStravick pinned down his 100th win at sectionals and was looking to add to that total at last week’s District 1-AAA North Tournament, but he never got the opportunity. The senior 140-pounder reluctantly pulled out because of injury.

“Mike has been battling loose cartilage in his left knee all season,” Hontz explained. “(The knee) would always lock up on him, but then he’d be fine a few minutes later. But two days before districts, literally with 30 seconds or so left to go in practice, it locked up on him again, and this time it didn’t unlock and he was in real pain.

“He had (the knee) worked on later that day, Friday and Saturday morning, trying to get some relief. But during warm-ups (on Saturday) you could see he was in tears from the pain and I pulled him out. It was a tough call, but the right thing to do. He was bummed out, but also relieved because he didn’t want to just go out and flop like a fish. Mike’s been nothing but a class kid for us.”

Hontz said McStravick will long be remembered for his key pin against Nazareth that helped the Indians to the PIAA State Team Duals title three years ago.


Penciled in on tonight’s opening-round card are the following area wrestlers: Boyertown’s Jeremy Minich, Matt Malfaro, Trevor MacMinn, Alex Pellicciotti, Tim Feroe, Tyler Mauger and Zach Heffner; Methacton’s Rob D’Annunzio, Justin Andrews and Brandan Clark; Owen J. Roberts’ Jonathan Dempsey, Andrew Kinney, Nick Fuschino and Scott Syrek; Perkiomen Valley’s Gavin Milligan, Jordan Deane and Chase Godfrey; Phoenixville’s Chris Onder and Ken Cenci; Pottsgrove’s Eric Dubree, Doug Ludy, Zach Robinson and Danny Michaels; Spring-Ford’s Tom Boring, Tim Miller, Kyle Duffy and Justin Franiak; and Upper Perkiomen’s Dan Rodenberger, Nick Edmonson and Jared Bennett.


Pellicciotti (41-3) needs three wins this weekend to tie David Jones for the school’s fourth-best individual season record. Only two other former Bears have had better winning percentages than Pellicciotti – 2004 state champion Mike Spaid (43-1, .977) and 2006 state runner-up Fred Rodgers (47-3, .940). … Pellicciotti (118), Feroe (112) and Malfaro (105) are also moving up the Boyertown career-win chart. … Feroe is third in career pins with 71, trailing only Jesse DeWan (72) and Spaid (80).


Fuschino (123) and Bennett (117) are also moving up the career win chart. But five other sophomores here for the regional are on their way to joining the group – most likely next season. They are Minich (69), Robinson (66), Syrek (65), Clark (63) and Milligan (60). Two juniors Edmonson and Andrews, are at 81 and 71, respectively.

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Now's not the time to look ahead

A call may be made to the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association to cancel the state wrestling tournament in two weeks. There are a whole lot of people from Bensalem to Butler, Boyertown to Bradford, and just about everywhere else in the Commonwealth who already have it all figured out … already know who’s finishing first (if not first through eighth) in all the brackets.

Why does that thing about the chicken and the egg and whatever came first keep coming to mind?

Ya gotta love wrestling fans. You should, at least most of them, that is. Their energy, and their passion, sure help make wrestling the great sport it is.

But this is the time of the year when a lot of the girls and boys (or shall we say ladies and gentlemen) kind of get ahead of themselves.

Just over a week ago, before District 1’s six sectionals began, a lot of people were already making their picks for the Southeast Regional. This week, before the three district tournaments’ top three seeds were revealed and everyone else was placed in their respective spots in the brackets, the conversations — and bantering on various forums, of course — intensified, with even more people coming up with a list of who was getting out of the Southeast Regional and going to medal at states.

Holy Singlet, Batman … it sure does seem like a lot of people are ahead of themselves (or maybe Biff got a hold

of Marty McFly’s 2009 PIAA State Championships results book).

District 1’s three Class AAA tournaments get under way this morning and, for the record, there are a good number of weight classes in each of them that are locked and loaded with talent, or enough talent to create a lot of excitement … a whole heck of a lot of questions that won’t necessarily get answered — officially, that is — until later tonight.

And then, when we’re able to digest all the results and combine them with those from District 12 (the district better known for its mystery school district boundaries and recruiting skills), it’ll be fun to hear all the conversations (and arguments) and see how they overload the forums next week heading into the Southeast Regional.

Let’s start up North.

Norristown’s Parker brothers — Brandon and Stephen — would like to have Family Day in Quakertown. Brandon (140), a sophomore and the No. 1 seed, likely hasn’t forgotten that match 30 days ago when he got pinned with 30 seconds left by none other than Eric Koch of Quakertown, who happens to be the No. 2 seed today. Stephen (145), a senior and the No. 1 seed, has probably heard enough about Pennridge’s Colin McDonnell being this and being that, but could get the opportunity to let it all fall on deaf ears if he meets McDonnell — the No. 2 seed — in the final. At 160, Plymouth-Whitemarsh’s John Staudenmayer was almost as good this time last year (38-1) as he is now (34-0), and would like nothing more than to finish off the weekend like he did last year’s district weekend, with a win over C.B. East’s Devon Passman. That, of course, would help him get a favorable seating in next week’s bracket, where he could take aim at a few other notable challengers (Council Rock South’s Ed Shupe, Great Valley’s Justin Schellenger, and Springfield-Delco’s Pat Leahan).

But if the North has one weight class to watch it’s the big boys at 285 pounds — a gang of eight whose combined won-loss records are second only to the South’s 152-pound bracket. There’s defending champion Jared Bennett of Upper Perkiomen (35-2), whose only two losses were back in December out in Reno — and both on the mats and not in the casinos; Hatboro-Horsham’s Alex Myers (29-4), who has won 14 in a row, including 10 times by pins; C.B. East’s Joe Burke (27-4), who flip-flopped between 215 and 285 all season and has been beaten just once at 285 — by Bennett last week; Norristown’s Marcus Robbins (36-6), among the district leaders in pins who won 18 in a row before dropping a close decision last weekend to Myers; and Perkiomen Valley’s Chase Godfrey (31-5), whose only two losses since the calendar turned over to 2009 have been to Bennett (1-0) and Myers (5-2).

Now, to the Central showdown at Spring-Ford.

At 119, it could be a Section Four rematch for Boyertown’s Matt Malfaro (35-5) and Unionville’s Joe Bonaduce (24-3), who had a 6-2 lead before Malfaro hit him for a six-point move that led to an injury default. And it may not be any different at 125 for Spring-Ford’s very quick Tim Miller (28-6) and Great Valley’s very strong Kyle Liberato (28-3).

Penncrest’s Resnick brothers have an agenda, too. At 135, Will (23-5) is likely to get Kennett’s unbeaten Kyle Bove (32-0) in the final; and at 171, Jim (27-2) is likely to have a final date with either Great Valley’s Scott Schretzenmaier (30-2) or Henderson’s Hunter Smith (25-1), who lost his unbeaten season last week in a 1-0 struggle with Resnick. But the 171 semifinals — Resnick against Downingtown West’s Josh Homer and Smith against Schretzenmaier — may be double the fun to watch.

At 140, unbeaten Joe Marino (29-0) of Garnet Valley and Downingtown East’s once-beaten Billy Heemer (26-1) are at opposite ends of the bracket. At 152, expect another PAC-10 battle between OJR’s Nick Fuschino (28-1) and Boyertown’s Tim Feroe (35-6), but don’t necessarily expect another lopsided score like the one in last week’s Section Four final.

Both 189 and 215 are packed tight, too. At 189, Boyertown sophomore Zach Heffner (25-5) is an up and coming talent, and could see Oxford’s Nick Ruggear (27-4) in the final. At 215, Great Valley’s Carl Buchholz, who pound for pound may be one of the best in the entire district, seems to tower over the rest. But don’t overlook OJR’s Scott Syrek (23-4), Conestoga’s Greg Gruschow (24-5) or Downingtown East’s energized Amro Elansati (25-1).

And finally, heading South.

At 103, Chris Matusik (30-2) could become only the second district champion at Academy Park, but will likely have to upset Truman’s James Bak (32-2) to do it. At 125, Council Rock South’s Matt Rappo (30-8) will be looking for his second district title that would extend his family’s string of at least one district champion to six straight years. At 145, a potential semifinal between South’s Marc Helfrich (27-7) and Springfield-Delco’s Brandon Loro (29-5) may be the best of the bracket.

At 152, what a final it could be between once-beatens Jimmy Vollrath (32-1) of Council Rock South and Josh Marquard (33-1) of Sun Valley. That is if pin-happy Bobby Scheivert (33-3) of Chichester doesn’t pull an upset beforehand. And at 160, Springfield-Delco’s Pat Leahan (29-5) would like to avenge that 4-2 setback in the district duals to top-seeded Ed Shupe (29-3) of Council Rock South.

But the one match most are looking for tonight unfolds at 189 … and make no mistake about it, barring a Twilight Zone-like upset early on, the final will be between Council Rock North’s Jamie Callender (35-5) and Springfield-Delco’s Andre Petroski (32-2). A junior, Petroski defeated Callender, 12-8, on Jan. 17 during the Elite Duals at C.R. North. They avoided one another in the district duals (understandable coaching strategy), but won’t today.

At the Section Eight Tournament last weekend, La Salle dominated as expected — nine individual champions, two runners-up, and two others who placed third. Don’t look for the Explorers to lose many of their 13 qualifiers at today’s District 12-AAA Championships, either, where the eight-man brackets are made up of four qualifiers each from the Philadelphia Catholic and Public leagues. The tournament is being held at Thomas Edison High School.


Who were the five District 1 wrestlers who failed to win an AAA Southeast Regional title but advanced to the PIAA Championships the following week and won a state title? (Answer at the end of the column … and no peeking).


Of all the teams represented in today’s three AAA tournaments, Sun Valley has gone the longest of any without a district champion. The Vanguards’ last gold medalist was Mike Kennedy in 1987. Ridley (1989), Penn Wood (1990), and Strath Haven (1990) are next on the list.

In Class AAA, Upper Perkiomen has had nine straight seasons with at least one district champion, three better than Boyertown, Pennsbury, and Quakertown. Council Rock South and Owen J. Roberts are shooting to extend their respective streaks to six straight years today. In Class AA, Octorara is the runaway leader with 17 straight seasons of at least one district champion. St. Pius X (10) and Harriton (8) are a distant second and third, respectively, behind the Braves.


Alex Pellicciotti is within nine wins of tying the Boyertown school record for wins in a season. The junior 130-pounder takes a 38-3 mark into today’s District 1-AAA Central Tournament, but would need to wrestle his way to states and pick up a few wins there to match the 47 wins put up by both Fred Rodgers (2006) and Jesse DeWan (2007). Pellicciotti needs one win to equal his total of a year ago and two to join a list of 12 former Bears who had 40 or more wins in a season.

Fuschino (120), Pellicciotti (115), Bennett (114), and Feroe (110) are the area’s career win leaders among those still wrestling. Fuschino could conceivably tie Robert Hoffman (131) for second on OJR’s chart, but will fall short of Aaron Brown (134). … Pellicciotti has all of next year yet to track down DeWan (143) as the Bears’ all-time leader. … Feroe (69) and Bennett (59) are far and above the area’s active leaders in career pins.


The five District 1 wrestlers who failed to win an AAA Southeast Regional title but advanced to the PIAA Championships the following week and won a state title were: Neshaminy Maple Point’s John Reich, was pinned in the regional final by Council Rock’s Lee Lartucci, but went on to win the state title at 155 pounds in 1978; Methacton’s Jon Moser finished third at the regional behind runner-up Pat Curry of Haverford and champion Tim Tobin of Ridley at the regional, but went on to win the state title – decisioning Curry in the first all-District 1 state final – at 126 pounds in 1979; Central Bucks East’s Marc Sodano finished third at the regional behind runner-up Dave Lucerne of Downingtown and champion Nick Vodantis of Phoenixville, but went on to win the state title at 112 pounds in 1982; Upper Perkiomen’s Brad Rozanski was decisioned by West Chester East’s Mike Krafchick in the regional final, but went on to win the state title at 125 pounds in 1990; and Upper Perkiomen’s Chris Sheetz finished second at the regional to Council Rock South’s Rick Rappo, but went on to decision Rappo in the state final for the title at 112 pounds in 2005.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Acquired Taste

Wrestling had always been a treat for the Malfaro family. Especially for Bill, a section champion for Pottsgrove back in 1980, and for his brothers Paul, Lewis, and Mike.

So it was no surprise, actually it was quite natural, when Bill’s first three sons — Billy, Tony, and Jacob — began rolling around on the mats at a young age.

But soon after Bill’s youngest son Matt started walking, he wasn’t in any hurry to exchange his diapers for a singlet, or traipse out onto the mats. He was, much to his dad’s and older brothers’ surprise, quite the aloof one when it came to wrestling.

“I hated it at first,” recalled Matt, now a junior at Boyertown High School.

But dad had one move the li’l fella simply couldn’t counter.

“Ice cream,” Matt explained. “Like I said, I hated wrestling. My dad got me started when I was in elementary school, and I didn’t like it at all. But it was in my family, so I guess I didn’t have a choice at first.

“When winter came around, I hated the idea (of wrestling). I hated the practices. I cried … did everything I could not to go. That’s when my dad said, ‘We’ll get ice cream after practice.’ Well, I couldn’t wait for those ice cream cones.”

What a treat they were.

And what a treat dad and brothers got in return Saturday morning when they watched Matt pin down his 100th career win during the opening round of the District 1-Class AAA Section Four Tournament.

“I started getting better in those practices, and by wrestling a lot with my brother Tony,” Malfaro remembered moments after the milestone win. “I actually started to like it.”

Getting better may have been an understatement.

Malfaro tipped the scales at 80 pounds and went 26-2 in seventh grade at Boyertown West. He bulked up to 90 pounds — not so much on ice cream anymore — and went 26-4 in eighth grade. He had more than proved himself, and the following year he was in the Bears’ starting lineup.

He hasn’t been out of it since, either.

And getting the 100th win — which led to his second Section Four title — is just another addition on his long list of wrestling achievements.

“It’s something I guess I always wanted to get, but something I didn’t really think a lot about,” Malfaro explained. “When getting (100) became more realistic, I realized it’s a pretty good accomplishment.

“Of course some people say winning 100 is easy to do now. Maybe it is, but not everybody does get that many. It was always something that made me want to work harder. It was never a distraction to me.”

Malfaro, now 102-33, hopes to add to that total during this weekend’s District 1-AAA Central Tournament at Spring-Ford. Adding a second district title to his resume would be nice, but the Southeast Regional and the PIAA state championships are just ahead, too.

“Right now, it’s step by step, or win, win, win,” Malfaro said. “Getting (100 wins) was one of my goals, but my long-term goal is to place at states. That means I’m going to have to win here (at sectionals), at districts, and at regionals.”

All Malfaro did Saturday was win. After his 46-second pin, he cruised in a 13-0 major to get to the final against No. 1 seed Joe Bonaduce of Unionville. He fell behind 6-2 early on, but a six-point move — takedown and four-point near fall when Bonaduce called for injury time — led to an injury default and the gold medal.

No one was sure if Bill Malfaro treated his youngest son to an ice cream cone later that night, though.

Saturday was a memorable day for Upper Perkiomen’s Mike McStravick, too.

The 140-pound senior became the program’s 21st wrestler to reach 100 career wins, reaching the mark with an 11-0 major decision during Saturday’s semifinals of the District 1-Class AAA Section Two Tournament.

“It felt good to get my 100th win out of the way early in the postseason. I dragged it out a little bit because of my (bout with) pneumonia,” said McStravick, who missed part a few matches late in the season and in the district duals because of the illness.


Spring-Ford senior Tim Miller said he worked a lot during the offseason to, in his words, “span the gap.”

Well, he actually closed the gap this winter. And that was never more evident than Saturday night when he outlasted Great Valley’s Kyle Liberato, 7-6, in the 125-pound final of the District 1-Class AAA Section Four Tournament.

Last year, Liberato blanked Miller, 4-0, at the sectional, then came back two weeks later and ended his season with an 11-2 major at the Southeast Regional. Liberato went on to medal at states, while Miller could just watch from the Giant Center seats.

“I just worked harder doing a lot of different stuff in the offseason,” Miller explained. “I knew I had to improve. And this (section title) was my first goal … the second and third are districts and regionals.”

Miller’s quickness was enough to offset Liberato’s muscle … at least enough to get that last-minute escape that proved to be the difference.

“I tried not to worry about his strength, because you can’t wrestle defensive,” Miller said. “I had to stay away from his ties. When he gets you tied up, it’s tough to get out. So I just tried to use my quickness against him. It seemed to work, too, because (Liberato) seemed frustrated at times, especially at the end.”


The No. 1 high belongs to Hill School, which had seven medalists in last weekend’s Pennsylvania Independent Schools State Tournament. Colin Saunders swept the 119-pound weight class, Jay Knight was second at 285, Steele Phillips and Kyle Place were fourth at 135 and 215, respectively, and Jack Sullivan was fifth at 125 to advance to this week’s National Prep Championships up at Lehigh University. The Blues also got a pair of sevenths from Karl Wiszumerski and Tyler Mueller to finish up seventh in the 19-team field. Combined with Perkiomen School’s Zach Sell and Eric Pfeiffer — both eighth — it was the two area school’s best combined showing at the state tournament in recent memory.

Unquestionably the two other highs from last weekend belong to Perkiomen Valley and Owen J. Roberts, who have 10 and 9 district qualifiers — both school records — on the mats this Saturday.


Zach Robinson became Pottsgrove’s first sectional champion in 15 years last season. This past Saturday he repeated, joining Mike Meko (1973-74) and Chris Beasley (1991-92) as the program’s only two-time sectional champions.


Daniel Boone’s Colin Martucci was the Blazers’ lone survivor in last weekend’s District 3-Class AAA Section Four Tournament at Governor Mifflin. Martucci, who finished second at 140 to improve to 31-5 n the season, will open the Southcentral Regional on Friday against Susquehanna Township’s Robert Tupper (23-10). Barring an upset, he’ll likely see top-seeded Jayshon Wilson (32-1) of Carlisle in the quarterfinals.


Methacton’s Brandan Clark repeated as a Section Three champion that, combined with older brother Brad’s three earlier, gives his family five straight seasons of sectional champions. … Upper Perkiomen’s Jared Bennett swept his second straight gold medal last Saturday to extended the Indians’ area-high streak of at least one section champion to 11 straight years. Owen J. Roberts’ Nick Fuschino’s second gold medal extended the Wildcats’ streak to eight straight years. Boyertown has had at least one every season since its return to District 1 back in 2002-03.

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Great Valley has a point to prove

BOYERTOWN – The second season, the postseason that is, has arrived … individual sport at its very best. And it isn’t just who does this and who does that. It’s who wins, or who wins often enough to survive the first week of a month-long grind that eventually separates the good from the not-as-good in a state with as storied a wrestling history as any anywhere.

In other words, there are usually no remaining team goals to pin down.

Usually, that is.

But you can bet your headgear, singlet and shoes – and a don’t-count-the-calories-lunch – that Great Valley has a team title on its mind going into today’s District 1-Class AAA Section Four Tournament.

The Patriots, considered one of the district’s premier teams from the very beginning of the season, and arguably one of the top three, didn’t get the opportunity to prove it. Great Valley officials had to shut down the program because of a skin infection that affected a number of the Patriots.

Because of the outbreak, Great Valley was forced to withdraw from the district duals, and because of the accompanying panic from around the district, saw its bid for an outright – and undisputed – Ches-Mont League championship get erased. The Patriots didn’t get to strut their collective stuff for 23 days, or until they finally returned to the mats for the Pequea Valley Duals last weekend and a non-league match with Brandywine Heights on Wednesday.

“The kids feel like they need to go out and prove themselves,” said head coach Joe Tornetta, a Phoenixville graduate who at the end of the season is stepping down after a long and very successful career at Great Valley. “They feel there are people out there who still think they are still overrated. They want to prove they are as good as publicized.”

Boyertown head coach Pete Ventresca was impressed with the Patriots well over a month ago, when they met up at the Cedar Cliff Duals. The Bears had a five-point lead going into the final bout, but Tornetta

opted to forfeit than send out one of his aces who was nursing an injured shoulder, giving Boyertown a bit of a deceiving 36-25 win.

“(Great Valley) is good, very good,” Ventresca said recently. “It’s a team that doesn’t really have many holes in its lineup.”

If the seedings for today’s brawl are any indication, yes, the Patriots are indeed good. They picked up 11 top-four seedings. The top draws went to Kyle Liberato (26-2 at 125 pounds), Domenic DeRobertis (27-2 at 145), Justin Schellenger (26-2 at 160), Myles Tornetta (26-3 at 189), and Carl Buchholz (28-2 at 215). Three teammates are No. 2 seeds.

“The kids have worked extremely hard and have had to overcome some serious obstacles in the process of getting here (today),” Tornetta said. “But sectional wrestling, postseason wrestling, is a bit different than dual meet competition. We will have to wrestle our best.”

Boyertown has been at its best – or close to it – in recent weeks. The Bears finished second to Quakertown in the district duals, avenged that loss to the Panthers to finish among the top six at the state duals, then capped the regular season with a rout of Phoenixville for its third straight Pioneer Athletic Conference championship.

The Bears have just two No. 1 seeds in Jeremy Minich (31-4 at 112) and Alex Pellicciotti (35-3 at 130). But three others – 2007 section champion Matt Malfaro (119), defending champion Tim Feroe (152) and a healthy Zach Heffner (189) – are situated No. 2 in their respective weight classes, and Trevor MacMinn (125) is a No. 3 seed.

Boyertown also has senior Charles Jones back at 171. Jones won nine of his first 11 bouts – losing just two close decisions – before suffering an injury at the Beast of the East Classic in Delaware..

The area’s two other teams in the section – Owen J. Roberts and Spring-Ford – each has a No. 1 seed. For the Wildcats, it’s Nick Fuschino (25-1) at 152. For the Rams, it’s Justin Franiak (21-8) at 285. Both are defending champions.

If there is one weight class in particular that could be the headliner today, it’s 152 – with two returning champions in Fuschino and Feroe (33-5), and very good rivals in Great Valley’s Travis Donnor (19-4) and Bishop Shanahan’s Evan Duffy (23-5).

If Fuschino and Feroe meet up in the final, Feroe will be looking for a little revenge considering he was 0-4 against Fuschino back in 2006-07, the last time the two met. In their respective high school careers, the pair have wrestled 29 common opponents, and Feroe has gone 30-7 against that group while Fuschino has gone 28-5.

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Boyertown, which returned to District 1 in 2004, has had more champions (22) the past five years than any other team in the Section Four field. Owen J. Roberts (10), Spring-Ford (9), Downingtown West (8) and Great Valley (7) are a distant second through fifth, respectively. … The only teams in all of District 1 with at least one section champion in each of the previous 10 seasons (1999-2008) are Neshaminy (Section One); Upper Perkiomen (Section Two); Methacton and Norristown (Section Three); and Upper Darby (Section Five). Henderson has also accomplished the feat while competing in Sections Four and Six during that span.


Phoenixville, back up in the AAA bracket for the first time in six years, picked up a pair of No. 1 seeds in Matt Cermanski (20-10) and Ken Cenci (25-5) for the Section Three Tournament at Methacton. Cermanski will be at 125, while Cenci is at 215 for the Phantoms, who also saw Chris Onder (16-8) draw the No. 2 spot at 112 and teammate Dan Giannone (15-13) get No. 3 at 125.

Perkiomen Valley has six top-three seeds. The Vikings’ No. 2 seeds are Gavin Milligan (28-4) at 130 and Jordan Deane (22-9) at 135, while the No. 3 seeds are Justin Beitler (18-8) at 103, Vaughn Gehman (12-13) at 145, Brett Petriello (22-11) at 189, and Chase Godfrey (28-4) at 285.

Host Methacton, meanwhile, didn’t get a No. 1 seed for the first time in recent memory. The hosts’ favorites are No. 2 seeds Rob D’Annunzio (22-6) at 103 and Brandan Clark (24-4) at 215, and No. 3 seed Kyle Kovalsky (21-7) at 160.

Justin Andrews, a section champion two years ago, is a contender at 119.

* * *

Phoenixville hasn’t had a Class AAA section champ since Ed Bearden, the third member of his family – joining Paul (1978) and Tom (1981 and 1982) – to capture a gold medal at sectionals. … Norristown’s David Irwin, who wrestled at Upper Perkiomen two years ago and was a Section Two champion, is 21-2 and seeded second at 112 pounds. … The Phantoms’ Sam LaPorte (3-23) opens against Plymouth-Whitemarsh’s John Staudenmayer (31-0), the only unbeaten wrestler in the entire sectional.


Upper Perkiomen drew five No. 1 seeds for the Section Two Tournament in its own gym. The Indians, who will have to deal with District 1-AAA Team Duals champion and defending section champion Quakertown, hope to get a lift from Marty McStravick (23-8) at 119, Garrett Fellman (21-11) at 125, Mike McStravick (27-5) at 140, Nick Edmonson (18-4) at 171, and Jared Bennett (32-2) at 285.

Pottsgrove’s Zach Robinson (25-5) is the No. 1 seed at 130. Falcon teammates D.J. Ludy (20-9), Danny Michaels (15-6) and T.J. Demetrio (23-7) all drew No. 3 seeds at 125, 135 and 145, respectively.

Pottstown, back up in the AAA bracket for the first time since 1990, got a No. 3 seed in Will Carter (15-9) at 285.

* * *

Unfortunately, either Pottsgrove’s Anthony Martin or Pottstown’s Rashaad Lighty will see their season end this morning when the two meet in a pigtail at 152 pounds. … Last season, Robinson became Pottsgrove’s first section champion since Brian Shallcross was a gold medalist in 1993. … Because of its long run in AA, Pottstown hasn’t had a Class AAA section champion since the memorable 1989 postseason run saw Chris Ruyak, Larry Wallace, Frank Stehman, Tom Medvetz, Brian Campbell and Job Price pin down gold for the Trojans. When the Class AA field expanded and forced officials to go with a two-section format in 1991, Pottstown’s Mike Johnson, Ron McCalicher, Shawn Schmidt, Dave McDonnell, Joey Allen and Rich Fagley were all District 1-Class AA Section One champions. The Pioneer Athletic Conference – Pottstown, along with Pottsgrove (three), Perkiomen Valley (one) and St. Pius X (one) – accounted for all but two of the individual gold medals in that sectional. … In the last 10 years, Upper Perkiomen has had a District 1-high 52 section champions – including a district-record eight in 2006.


Pellicciotti owns the most wins (35) of anyone in today’s six sectionals. Norristown’s Marcus Robbins is next with 34, while teammates Brandon Parker and Joe Kent, along with Feroe, are next with 33 apiece. … Feroe, Chichester’s Bob Scheivert and Robbins share the District 1 lead in pins with 22 each.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bears belong among top in the state

The PIAA has been staging its state team duals tournament 11 years now. The first, back in 1999, there were just 10 teams — all district champions — that made up the Class AAA field. And there were no wrestle-backs, no consolation brackets, either.

The inaugural run started with some controversy, when Northampton head coach Don Rohn — unhappy that the timing of the duals conflicted with the individual postseason — sent his No. 1 ranked Konkrete Kids’ junior varsity team out for a first-round match-up with Gettysburg and, of course, lost. The inaugural run ended on a rather gloomy note, when Bald Eagle Area humbled Upper Perkiomen, 53-0, in the old Hersheypark Arena.

For the next five years, with more postseason-friendly dates — and everyone, including the folks up in Northampton, considerably happier as a result — the duals served as nothing more than a showcase for the District 11 powers. Northampton won it in 2000, then Easton pinned down the next four titles.

In 2005, the PIAA altered its duals format, opening the field to include runners-up and third-place finishers from the state’s larger districts, bringing in the champion from its newest member — the Philadelphia Public League (District 12) — and adding a consolation bracket for survivors of the opening-round matches.

Since then, and since moving a few blocks over to the Giant Center, it’s been quite an event, perhaps what the PIAA — and Pennsylvania’s devoted wrestling following — envisioned from the outset.

But the duals, a great venue for the state to show off its scholastic wrestling powers, were never quite the spectacle they were last weekend.

Don’t think so? Take roll call (alphabetically) on Saturday … Blue Mountain, Boyertown, Central Dauphin, Central Mountain, Cumberland Valley, and Northampton.

Well, depending on what state ranking you choose to read (or subscribe to), two of them had Central Dauphin, Northampton, Central Mountain, Blue Mountain, Cumberland Valley, and Boyertown at No. 1 through No. 6, respectively. And depending on what national ranking you choose to read (or subscribe to), the one most recognized (and, of course, most criticized) had Central Dauphin at No. 4, Northampton at No. 5, Central Mountain at No. 6, Blue Mountain at No. 14, and Cumberland Valley at No. 19.

Let’s see, the top six teams in the state and five of the Top 20 teams in the country all sharing four mats Saturday morning at the Giant Center.

Can you say, “Wow” … or just spell it?

And did Boyertown belong in that elite group of six? You can bet your singlet it did.

The Bears have their share of what wrestling extremists like to call “studs,” those you can likely count on to get four or more points no matter what weight class you pencil them in at. Not a lot of them, mind you, but their fair share. They have their share of others who will, more often than not, get you a win here and there. And, most important, they have their share of anonymous entries in the lineup who will not always surrender the bonus points that are so critical in determining the outcome of big matches.

This season, despite a couple of injuries and an assortment of distractions from their critics and forums statewide, the Bears stepped up … and without question earned the right to be called one of the top six teams in Pennsylvania.

And if you’re talking top six? In this state? For 2008-09?

Not bad … not bad at all.


The Pioneer Athletic Conference’s 23rd season of wrestling ended Monday night with Boyertown claiming its third straight title. Runner-up Upper Perkiomen, with the exception of the ineligible wrestler issue that created the forfeit frenzy in 2007, has been first or second every season since 1997.

But it’s been a while since the rest of the league was so competitive. Owen J. Roberts and Perkiomen Valley shared third place at 6-3, and both Methacton and Spring-Ford were right behind at 5-4.

OJR lost to Perkiomen Valley, but defeated both Methacton and Spring-Ford, the latter for the first times since joining the PAC-10 back in 1988. Perkiomen Valley lost a two-point thriller to Methacton, but got the best of Spring-Ford for the second straight season – which it had never done before.

Methacton, which got thumped early by Spring-Ford, finished strong with the win over PV underlining the stretch run.

And if there was a silver lining for the Warriors, at least for rookie head coach A.J. Maida, it was that he had wins over three Methacton graduates who are currently head coaches in the PAC-10 – Tim Walsh at Perkiomen Valley; Dave Saville and Phoenixville; and Jeff Madden at Pottsgrove.

Owen J. Roberts was 6-3 for the first time since 2002, while Perkiomen Valley was 6-3 for the first time since 2003. … Spring-Ford’s five wins were the Rams’ fewest since the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s inaugural season, when they were 4-3 in the then eight-team league. … Pottsgrove, which closed at 3-6, lost to Perkiomen Valley by just two points and were within two individual bout wins of knocking off Owen J. Roberts and Methacton. … Phoenixville, as well as Pottstown and St. Pius X, weakened considerably by lack of numbers, injuries and illnesses, still reared their competitive heads at times this season.

Spring-Ford, the only member of the Pioneer Athletic Conference with a winning record in all 23 seasons, remains the winningest program in the PAC-10 with 172 wins. Upper Perkiomen is second (134). … Boyertown, with seven seasons in the league, owns the best winning percentage (.914). … Perkiomen Valley (103) and Pottstown (100) became the third and fourth teams to get to the 100-win mark in league competition. Owen J. Roberts needs two wins next season to join the group.


Springfield-Delco’s Andre Petroski, a legitimate contender for a state title at 189 pounds next month, tuned up for the postseason by winning the 184-pound weight class in the annual Edinboro Open last Saturday. Petroski strung together five wins – four decisions and a disqualification – against college rivals.


Boyertown’s Matt Malfaro and Upper Perkiomen’s Mike McStravick will be shooting for sectional titles as well as their 100th career wins Saturday. The 119-pound Malfaro, a junior, hasn’t lost since Jan. 3 – a string of 21 straight wins – and is one away from the milestone after his victory Monday night against Phoenixville. The 140-pound McStravick, a senior, has won 15 of his last 16 bouts and needs two this weekend to reach the milestone.

Boyertown’s Ryan Kemmerer (152) is currently eighth on The Mercury area’s all-time win chart. … Owen J. Roberts’ Nick Fuschino (117) needs five more wins to move up into third place on his school’s leaderboard behind former Wildcats’ Robert Hoffman (131) and Aaron Brown (134). … Boyertown’s Alex Pellicciotti, a junior, and Upper Perkiomen’s Jared Bennett, a senior, each take 111 career wins into the postseason, while Boyertown’s Tim Feroe (107) – who reached the mark just over a week ago – is the only other active area wrestler with 100-plus career wins.


The District 1 Wrestling Coaches Association announced the 20th class of inductees for the district’s Hall of Fame. Those to be honored at the Southeastern Regional at Oxford later this month are former longtime coaches Charlie Kramer of Perkiomen Valley and Mike Colley of West Chester East, and outstanding wrestlers Mike Jones of Haverford, Rocky Mantella of Council Rock, and Derek Zinck of Upper Perkiomen.


Bears back on the rise

This column was originally published in the Feb. 6 edition of The Mercury.

HERSHEY – There’s no question Boyertown took one heck of a seesaw ride the past week.

It began during last Friday night’s semifinals of the district duals. The Bears, nowhere near 100 percent with one starter out of the lineup and another hobbling on one leg, beat Council Rock North. And you had to be impressed with what unfolded in the match, because it was the fourth straight win this season over the Indians, who were much better and a considerably bigger challenge than they were in those previous three meetings.

But as high as the Bears may have been that night, they were that low, if not lower, less than 24 hours later. They had their singlets and headgear handed to them by Quakertown. Everything that could have possibly gone wrong did go wrong. The 54-16 loss wasn’t just unexpected and ugly, it was Boyertown’s worst loss in a long, long time, worse than any of its previous four setbacks this season, and they were to state powers Central Dauphin (No. 1), Northampton (No. 2) and Cumberland Valley (No. 5), and Delaware dynamo St. Mark’s – all nationally ranked rivals.

If there was one consolation, and you

had to bet head coach Pete Ventresca, his staff and the Bears themselves were desperately seeking something to soothe their devastated wrestling souls, it was the fact they had already earned a spot in the PIAA-Class AAA State Duals.

Most people, at least those outside Boyertown, didn’t expect the Bears to get rid of the hangover before Tuesday night’s state-opener at La Salle College High, either. But in what may have been their most physical challenge in recent memory, the Bears did. They rocked and socked their hosts – a team whose only loss was a three-point thriller to Quakertown, by the way – keeping their composure and giving a handful or so of foul fans something to whine about the rest of the winter, by sweeping nine of the individual bouts in a 41-21 romp.

The Bears didn’t let down Wednesday night at St. Pius X, either. They took all but one match against the Lions and clinched no worse than a share of their third straight Pioneer Athletic Conference title.

Whew … what a ride.

It’s brought them, for the very first time, here to the Giant Center – the arena wrestlers crave to visit this time of year as much if not more than the next-door amusement park youngsters crave to visit throughout the summer.

It could be a thrill, like the Coal Cracker, Great Bear and Kissing Tower rides offer in the adjacent park. But Boyertown will be stepping onto the mat this morning (10:00) against Central Mountain, which has given many an opponent few thrills and a whole lot of chills this winter.

Yes, Central Dauphin and Northampton – even Cumberland Valley – have been grabbing most of the headlines all season. But Central Mountain is ranked right behind those two – No. 3 in the state and No. 6 in the nation – and aren’t just a threat to beat up on the Bears (20-5) but a threat to beat up on everyone else out here.

The Wildcats (10-0) line up with five returning state qualifiers, three of whom are two-time state medalists – Jordan Rich and the unbeaten Alton brothers you’ve heard so much about. They were third at the prestigious Ironman, and swept the team honors at the Mountain League Tournament, the King of the Mountain, and the Escape The Rock Invitational at Council Rock South. They cruised to the District 6 title by humbling both Bellefonte (53-15) and Indian Valley (47-15), and come into this morning’s bout with the Bears with a ridiculous average winning spread of 47 points.

There’s no shame in being the underdog. As a matter of fact, a lot of coaches kind of covet that tag. But Boyertown, rest assured, is the underdog in this one … and for five big reasons – Rich, Andrew and Dylan Alton, and returning state qualifiers Forrest Bechdel and Glenn Barnes.

Those five will likely go against five of the big Bears. Ventresca isn’t likely to admit it, but for his team to survive this one he’ll likely have to go with Adam Kolb (13-9) against Bechdel (18-11) at 103; Jon Neiman (15-8) against Rich (26-5) at 125; Alex Pellicciotti (30-3) against Andrew Alton (28-0) at 140; Ryan Kemmerer (20-1) against defending state champion Dylan Alton (29-0) at 145; and Zach Heffner (19-3) against Barnes (24-7) at 215.

Central Mountain will be favored in three or four other bouts, but the Bears have countered some mountain-like odds in the past, too.

And they’d sure like to ride this one out (in other words, forget the seesaw).

* * *

The survivor of the Boyertown-Central Mountain affair gets treated to a quarterfinal meeting with unbeaten District 11 champion Northampton (19-0). … District 1’s third-place Council Rock North will be wrestling this morning, too, against District 7 runner-up Connellsville. District champion Quakertown takes on the winner of the Blue Mountain-Clearfield bout in the 2 p.m. quarterfinals.

* * *

Five of the 12 teams here in the Class AAA bracket are nationally ranked. Central Dauphin (No. 4), Northampton (No. 5) and Central Mountain (No. 6) top the list, which also features Blue Mountain (No. 14) and Cumberland Valley (No. 19). … Rich (102-22) career) was seventh and fourth at states the last two years; Andrew Alton (115-8) has a pair of third-place finishes; and Dylan Alton (113-5) was seventh two years ago before grabbing the gold last March. All three are juniors.

* * *

Central Dauphin is the defending champion, defeating Northampton, 37-21, last year. … In state duals competition, which began in 1999, Quakertown is 0-1, Boyertown is 1-2, and Council Rock North is 4-5. The rest of the AAA teams and their respective overall records in state duals competition coming into this morning are Blue Mountain (1-0); Central Dauphin (5-3); Central Mountain (4-1); Clearfield (1-4); Connellsville (9-5); Cumberland Valley (14-9); Erie Cathedral Prep (3-4); and Northampton (5-2). District 7 champion Bethel Park, which doesn’t open until this afternoon’s quarterfinals, is making its debut.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Boyertown must regroup in a hurry

Sometimes it is impossible to escape the pain of power-halves, wings and all of those other uncompromising moves. Sometimes the effort to counter those moves – in victory or defeat – does little if anything to ease that pain.

Amazingly, wrestlers heal, or at least mend whatever smarts the most to get right back into the practice room and right back on the mats.

But there is nothing, absolutely nothing more challenging than relieving the mental misery brought on by a loss – a team loss – that from start to finish, defies explanation. Problem is, there’s rarely enough time to deal with the throbbing hangover.

In other words, regroup or retreat.

Boyertown had to deal with the sting of that 54-16 loss to Quakertown in the District 1-Class AAA Team Duals final most of the weekend, and hopefully was able to sweat it out of its collective system during practice Monday.

Yes, the Bears were the No. 1 seed for the duals. Yes, they certainly deserved it by their performance throughout December and January. And yes, they certainly looked every bit the top seed during their second-round win over Perkiomen Valley and again during their semifinal win over Council Rock North – which earned them a few additional props considering it was the fourth time this winter they had gotten the best of the Indians.

And while no one, at least no one in their right mind, was at any time ready to hand head coach Pete Ventresca all those individual gold medals for his Bears and the team plaque for his school’s trophy case, no one – absolutely no one – expected or predicted what unfolded in the final with Quakertown.

Yes, there were distractions, and a few Bears were hurting and less than 100 percent. But 54-16?

No. Nope. Ain’t no way.

Ventresca, obviously, didn’t anticipate it. Neither did Panthers head coach Kurt Handel.

Fact is, what unfolded between two very good teams on Saturday doesn’t happen all that often. But it does happen. And Quakertown – which delved into as challenging a schedule as anyone in District 1 this year and was absolutely as good as its record (19-2) indicated – took advantage of every wee little mistake Boyertown made. And the Panthers didn’t run off with it, they stayed and all but made Boyertown disappear.

Momentum? You bet. And in wrestling, when one team gets the mental edge it creates a tsunami-like wave of confidence that, like in Saturday’s final, is virtually unstoppable.

“(Quakertown) got it and we just couldn’t stop it,” said Matt Malfaro, who provided just one of the Bears’ two contested wins with a major decision in the opening bout at 119 pounds.

The Bears’ challenge will be regrouping for tonight’s first round of the state duals championships. It begins with another lengthy bus ride, this time to Wyndmoor, and continues when they take on District 12 champion La Salle College High School, which owns a rather formidable record (19-1) itself. And it’s not like anyone on the Boyertown bus doesn’t already know, but the Explorers’ lone setback this season was 33-30 to none other than Quakertown back on Jan. 3 at the Zephyr Duals.

La Salle’s head coach is Vic Stanley, one of the winningest coaches in the state whose career began back in the 1970s at the former Council Rock High School. Stanley has nine wrestlers with more than 20 wins, another two sitting on 19. And the Explorers produce big points … they pin, in other words. Four of those 20-match winners, and both of the 19-match winners, have finished more than half of their victories by fall.

Boyertown’s likely dealt with the hangover by now, but still needs to bring the physical part of its game that it had all season long before the loss to Quakertown. And, win or lose, the Bears will likely remained focused for its final two league duals that, if both won, will help the Bears accomplish the program’s first goal -- winning another Pioneer Athletic Conference championship.

* * *

Council Rock North (12-10), which finished third by denying neighboring rival Council Rock South its fourth straight appearance in the state duals, opens tonight against District 2 champion Hazleton at Crestwood High School in Mountaintop. The Indians are 3-5 in state duals competition, while both Boyertown (0-2 overall) and Quakertown (0-1) are still seeking their first wins. Quakertown earned a spot in Friday’s quarterfinals in Hershey and will likely go up against with District runner-up Blue Mountain or District 3’s third-place Lower Dauphin, who meet this evening. The winner should survive a second-round test against the survivor of tonight’s Clearfield (District 9-1) and Hempfield (District 7-3) match. … Overall, District 1 teams – seven, to be exact – are a combined 23-23 in the PIAA-Class AAA duals, which began in 1999. … Class AA champion Octorara – coached by Spring-Ford graduate Mark Durante – will attempt to do something no other District 1 team has done, and that’s win a state dual match. The Braves open tonight against visiting District 3 runner-up Bermudian Springs.


There actually is a remote chance District 3’s three teams – champion Central Dauphin, runner-up Cumberland Valley and third-place Lower Dauphin – could finish 1-2-3 in the state duals. Unbeatens Northampton (District 11-1) and Central Mountain (District 6-1), of course, are likely to figure in on those possibilities but neither may be quite capable of challenging defending state champion Central Dauphin. … Easton, which has won four state duals and settled for runner-up honors three other years, was eliminated in the District 11-AAA Duals semifinals by Blue Mountain, 32-29. … Blue Mountain is the first District 11 team other than Easton, Nazareth and Northampton to advance to the state duals.


There is, to a certain extent, too much emphasis put on wrestlers reaching the 100-win mark nowadays because of the expanded schedules and the opportunity for freshmen to compete on the high school varsity level.

But Tim Feroe warrants an asterisk, if you will. The Boyertown senior didn’t exactly have eye-popping numbers at West Junior High and wasn’t exactly the projected superstar as a freshman, not with a 5-7 record. But he sure opened eyes the past two seasons when he amassed 34 and 36 wins, respectively, and started collecting postseason medals.

So when Feroe punched up his 100th career win last Friday night at the district duals, and did it like he has so many of the previous wins – with a pin – it was a particularly notable achievement. What the true wrestling fan has to like about Feroe is his aggressiveness, his drive to get the pin – which he’s done to finish off 63 of what is now 101 victories.

* * *

Upper Perkiomen’s Mike McStravick’s run to 100 was slowed a bit last week while he battled back from a bout with pneumonia. McStravick opens the week with 96, while Malfaro is sitting on 92 going into tonight’s match at La Salle.


The District 1 Wrestling Coaches Association announced the 20th class of inductees for the district’s Hall of Fame. Those to be honored at the Southeastern Regional at Oxford later this month are former longtime coaches Charlie Kramer of Perkiomen Valley and Mike Colley of West Chester East head coach and outstanding wrestlers Mike Jones of Haverford, Rocky Mantella of Council Rock, and Derek Zinck of Upper Perkiomen.


Bears play a waiting game

HOLLAND — When Boyertown was named the top seed in the District 1-Class AAA Team Duals Tournament, head coach Pete Ventresca and the Bears were also rewarded with a first-round bye. That meant a free seat in the stands, where they could relax and watch everyone else sweat it out.

What Ventresca and the Bears didn’t expect (after slipping into their singlets and eliminating Perkiomen Valley in the second round), was another bye … in tonight’s quarterfinals.

Because West Chester Henderson pulled out of the duals Tuesday due to a fast-spreading skin infection similar to the one that forced No. 3 seed Great Valley to pull out of the duals and shut down its program just over a week ago, the Bears will have the opportunity to be fans first again this evening. This time, all of their eyes will be focused on the Council Rock North and Springfield-Delco feature (6 p.m.), the winner of whom they’ll tangle with (at 8 p.m.) for a spot in Saturday’s final and, just as important, a guaranteed berth in next week’s state tournament.

“It’s kind of like a double-edge sword for us,” Ventresca said earlier this week. “(The bye) means we get to go right into the semifinals, and we have a chance to scout our opponent for that match. At the same time, though, that other team will have had that first match in, which is good for the nerves. It’s also a good warm-up.”

Ventresca plans to get the Bears (16-4) heated up before stepping on the mats, too. That may mean running through the Council Rock South High School hallways, or rolling around in a remote corner of the gym … who knows.

“Oh, we’ll get a good warm-up in all right,” Ventresca said. “We don’t want to go out there stagnant.

“We’ll have to be ready, because (Council Rock North and Springfield-Delco) will be going out for blood.

That’s going to be an emotional match. I know from experience that it’s tough to go back-to-back in big matches like this, but (for the winner) it can be a positive.”

Neither Ventresca nor the Bears care who wins that earlier match, either. SF-Delco got the best of Council Rock North (37-28) a couple of weeks ago, an outcome that could easily be reversed tonight. And the fact the Bears beat Council Rock North three times already this season – 31-25, 45-27 and 38-24 – creates an even more daunting challenge if they’d go at it yet again.

“Right now we have our strategy in place for both of them,” Ventresca explained. “Delco definitely has a lot of tough kids in its lineup, and Council Rock North poses a lot of problems for us with their lineup right now. There are a lot of different things about each team that concern us, so I can’t say we’d prefer to wrestle one or the other.”

There’s no question Boyertown’s strength begins at 103 and runs through 152 or 160, wherever Tim Feroe (24-5) gets penciled in. Adam Kolb is considerably better of late at 103 pounds than his 11-7 record indicates. And after Kolb it’s Jeremy Minich (22-4), Matt Malfaro (23-5), Jon Neiman (14-5), Trevor MacMinn (13-8), Alex Pellicciotti (27-2) and Ryan Kemmerer (18-1), a gang that has the ability to go toe-to-toe with any other seven in the entire district.

What the Bears need, if they’re to get into the final let alone pin down the title, is for Feroe and 189-pound Zach Heffner (17-2) to anchor the upper portion of the lineup – which may also include some form of combination of Ross Herlinger, Tyler Mauger, Brock Hallman, Ryan Schwager, Zach Rodgers and Mike Brnilovich. The heavier brackets are where both Council Rock North and Springfield-Delco flex some mighty muscles of their own.

“We have to stay focused,” Ventresca said. “We have to go out confident and not allow ourselves to get caught up in the atmosphere. We have to be at our best and take care of business.”

The Bears have been, for the most part this season, with their only losses to nationally ranked rivals – St. Mark’s (Del.), Northampton, Central Dauphin and Cumberland Valley.

“Our team goal at the beginning of the season was to place in the top three in every tournament we were scheduled to be in,” Ventresca said. “But winning (the district duals) is our goal now. We feel we can do it, but we know our hands are going to be full because there are a lot of very tough teams here. We have to wrestle our best in every bout of every match.”

* * *

No. 7 seed Upper Perkiomen (16-7), which has more wins and more duals titles than anyone else in the Class AAA bracket, goes up against No. 2 Quakertown (16-2) in one of the other quarterfinals tonight. No. 14 Central Bucks East (10-7) takes on host and No. 6 Council Rock South (7-5) in the other.

“Quakertown is so good,” Upper Perkiomen head coach Tom Hontz said after last week’s PAC-10 win against Perkiomen Valley. “They’re very, very tough down low.”

Quakertown features a handful of the district’s top-ranked entries, with Scott Wolfinger (23-5) at 103 and Colin Bynum (20-7) at 125, then the imposing threesome of Matt Rust (27-6) at 135, Eric Koch (21-7) at 140, and Briar Malichewski (22-7) at 145.

The Indians aren’t exactly a pushover early on, not with brothers Marty McStravick (19-7) and Mike McStravick (24-5) sandwiched around Garrett Fellman (19-8). And they can produce big points themselves up top with Britt Kerr (16-9), Nick Edmonson (13-4), Nick Hale (13-9) and Jared Bennett (27-2).


The host Golden Hawks, unquestionably the darkhorse among the seven remaining teams, are the two-time defending duals champions. They defeated Council Rock North, 36-27, for the title a year ago. … The year before returning to District 1 for the 2001-02 season, Boyertown won the District 3-AAA Duals title. … Upper Perkiomen has won one-third, or five, of the 15 district duals titles. … The Class AA battle begins Saturday, with top-seeded Octorara – coached by Spring-Ford graduate Mark Durante – the heavy favorite to pin down the program’s record eighth AA title. The Braves ended Pottstown’s two-year reign last winter.


Great Valley issue handled well

My oh my, how we’ve progressed. Let’s see, we have voice mail, e-mail, text-messaging, blogs, forums, Facebook … enough already. We still have the ol’ Letter to the Editor, too (nah, forget that one — you actually have to write or type something and sign your name to it).

But everyone has an opinion on everything, and countless venues to express them.

Go back as long as you want, back to our parents’ or even our grandparents’ day — a generation or two, if you will — and you’ll find, very much like today, everyone had an opinion of this and that. But those opinions, our own personal points of view or what we may have thought was right and wrong, were curbed to a great extent by respect.


Gotta be kidding me, right?

Respect? That’s gone the way of the rotary telephone and Atari, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, and Tetris.

No one knows exactly when or where, but at some point and time, way too many people became authorities on sports. No one knows for sure if they were motivated by their own past, when they may have failed miserably as athletes themselves or were scarred by an indifference with a coach or two. Perhaps they were motivated during the drive to and from work with sports talk shows of all kinds blaring on the radio,

or during the hours at home when they melt into the sofa, flick from channel to channel to watch and listen to even more experts.

But eventually, or so they think, they know a great deal more about the games than anyone else, including the men and women who coach them and the athletes who play them.

So today, thanks to our electronic geniuses, these sports authorities — hiding behind the anonymity afforded them by voice mail, email, blogs, and forums — express their opinions on anything and everything.

Sadly, they’re read (or heard).

The sport of wrestling sure hasn’t escaped the experts’ wrath, either, especially in recent years. And the great mat minds were full of themselves last week when Great Valley pulled out of the District 1-AAA Duals because of a skin infection that spread throughout the team.

There were those who questioned the “timing” of head coach Joe Tornetta’s decision to pull out, others who questioned the “competency” of District 1 administrators for not replacing Great Valley in the duals lineup. There was one genius who questioned the professionalism — or integrity — of a writer who covers the Patriots for our sister paper, The Daily Local News. Of course, as every genius likes to claim today, he or she had their sources. I won the lottery four times last month, too (and didn’t even buy one ticket).

The fact anyone would question Tornetta or Great Valley’s administration on their handling of the skin infection issue is ludicrous.

When the seeding meeting was held Sunday a week ago at Spring-Ford, Tornetta had one wrestler diagnosed with excyma and another seeing a doctor for a “pimple look alike.” One was already cleared to return to the mats the day before the district duals began. But at the conclusion of Tuesday’s practice, both wrestlers’ conditions had worsened, at least visually on their face, neck, and arms, and another wrestler developed a “pimple look alike” condition. Tornetta made calls to the parents to have their sons get checked by doctors. Upon returning to school Wednesday morning, Tornetta was informed there were three suspected cases of herpes gladiatorum, the scientific name for mat herpes. The Ches-Mont League match with Rustin on Wednesday night was postponed at that time.

Also on Wednesday, a dermatologist spoke with Great Valley administrators who, along with Tornetta, made the decision to shut down the wrestling program for 10 days because even more wrestlers may have been infected by the skin condition despite showing no symptoms.

Within the hour, at approximately 3 p.m. Wednesday, calls were made to both Bob Ruoff, chairman of District 1, and Dennis Kellon, chairman of the District 1 Wrestling Steering Committee, to inform them of the situation at Great Valley as well as the decisions to shut down the program and pull out of the duals.

Tornetta and everyone else at Great Valley should be commended, not condemned, for handling the situation.

The writer who was covering the incident from the beginning was bashed for not revealing the so-called story right away — Monday, that is. First of all, there was no story on Monday, or Tuesday for that matter. A skin condition or two, which a lot of wrestling teams experience in a season, doesn’t constitute a story. But when it spreads throughout a team and causes a program to be shut down, it is a story.

The media doesn’t — and should never at any time — write or publish stories based on hearsay or according to unreliable sources. And creating a story without someone, a creditable source, that is, to back it … well, check the fiction section of your nearest library. It’s called professionalism, and ignoring that standard can easily lead to libel or defamation suits in this litigation-happy society today. So Thursday, when it became “official” that Great Valley was out of the duals, the Daily Local News reported the story the following morning.

Of course, the geniuses took a few shots at the district administrators for not reseeding, too. The reseeding would have been elementary, but doing that — inserting a new 24th and final seed and bumping everyone up would have also meant changing locations for quite a few teams’ first-round matches. But that, as simple as it may sound, would have also created obvious havoc for teams with their already scheduled travel plans of getting to the right location in time.

Ruoff, Kellon, and everyone else involved in the decision to stay the course — giving the winner of the first-round match that was supposed to face Great Valley a forfeit — meant no complete overhaul of the bracket was required. No wave of phone calls had to be made, not one coach had to prepare for “another” team at the last minute, and not one school had to rework its transportation schedule. In other words, good job.

Bottom line, Tornetta and everyone else at Great Valley did what was best for their wrestlers and, in doing so as proficiently and promptly as they did, protected the entire District 1 wrestling community.

As far as surprises on the mats, there were none in last week’s first two rounds of the District 1-AAA Duals. Except for No. 17 Perkiomen Valley’s win over No. 16 C.B. West — and C.B. East getting the forfeit, of course — there were no upsets.

The District 1-AA Duals champion will come from outside the PAC-10 for the first time in three years. Pottstown swept the title the previous two years, while St. Pius X won it in 2006.


The District 3-AAA duals seedings were released over the weekend, and they should be of interest to wrestling fans around the state when the tournament gets under way tonight. Two of the best teams in all of Pennsylvania — Central Dauphin (10-0) and Cumberland Valley (11-2) — are seeded No. 1 and No. 2 — and No. 3 Lower Dauphin (20-1) is no slouch, either. Berks County champion Schuylkill Valley (20-1) drew the No. 4 seed, while runner-up Wilson (17-2) opens as No. 7. … The other big boy in the Commonwealth — Northampton — is likely to get the No. 1 seed up in District 11, which holds its tournament this weekend. And while Nazareth and Easton are expected, as always, to compete, don’t overlook Blue Mountain, which has been ranked as high as No. 4 in the state this season. … Central Mountain, another proven power this winter, is expected to get the No. 1 seed out in District 6.


Spring-Ford recently joined Methacton as the only area schools with 500 or more wins in the history of their wrestling programs. The Rams’ milestone win was their 45-28 decision of Upper Moreland in the final match of the Parkland Duals two weeks ago. Going into this week’s matches, Methacton (503) and Spring-Ford (502) and eighth and ninth, respectively, on District 1’s all-time win chart. Unofficially, Pottstown is 10th with 490 wins.

A number of other schools throughout the state have reached or passed milestones of their own this season. Pius X (District 11) has gone over the 300-win mark; General McLane (District 10) has passed 450; Corry (District 10) has gone over 500; and Nazareth (District 11) has gone beyond the 700-win mark in its storied history.


Boyertown’s Ryan Kemmerer, who is expected back in the lineup this week, is at No. 8 on The Mercury’s career chart with 150 wins. … Teammate Tim Feroe is at 98 and could hit the coveted 100-win mark Friday night at the duals. … Upper Perkiomen’s Mike McStravick (95) is within range, but may have to wait for the postseason, when Boyertown’s Matt Malfaro (89) is likely to reach the mark as well.


Buckle up for Bears-Tribe Part IV

This column originally ran in the Jan. 13 edition of The Mercury.

The district duals get under way in nine days, then there are another 22 days before the real drama begins — the month-long run of sections, districts, regionals, and states. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Just in case you were accidentally locked in Zerns or trapped in the ice up on Green Lane Reservoir over the weekend and unable to unravel the mat mind, few need to be reminded that Wacky Wednesday is upon us.

There’s no better way to describe the annual scrap between Boyertown and Upper Perkiomen, which has created volley after volley of vile insults and side-splitting insinuations — as well as an overload of predisposed predictions — for the last six years, or since the Bears bolted from the Berks Conference and enrolled in the Pioneer Athletic Conference lineup.

Their seventh get-together, actually ninth overall if you add in the two district dual brawls back in 2004 and 2005, could be a Boyertown blowout if you listen to some of the vocal Bear faithful. Then again, it could be an edge-of-your-seat thriller if you lend an ear to some of the just-as-verbal Indian followers.

The short but engaging series has had both.

Right now, Boyertown is the two-time defending PAC-10 champions (sharing last year’s title with Spring-Ford) and ranked No. 1 in the area and in the so-called “official“ District 1 poll. In other words, the Bears are very, very good. Upper Perkiomen isn’t delivering the roundhouse that led to eight consecutive undefeated PAC-10 titles, but has improved considerably since the season began and thrown a knockout punch here and there along the way to stand No. 2 in the area and at No. 7 in that “official” district poll. In other words, the Indians are still pretty darn good.

So what gives, or what will give Wednesday night up in Red Hill?

Well, the pill flip (to determine what weight class kicks off the match) and the coin flip (to determine who has to send out their wrestler first in each of the individual bouts) will unquestionably add to the drama. But the outcome of those flips could turn the whole affair into a flop, too.

Upper Perkiomen needs both (flips) … badly.

Make no mistake about it, a lot of fans have jumped off the Upper Perkiomen bandwagon the last two years, but the dark gym and earsplitting hometown crowd can still be a bit intimidating for guests. The Bears aren’t likely to be daunted by the noise. Still, they can ill-afford any early Upper Perkiomen momentum (remember how that can fire up the competitive juices).

But Boyertown is No. 1 for a reason — head coach Pete Ventresca doesn’t have many holes in that lineup. So wherever the match gets started, Upper Perkiomen will have a difficult time getting on a roll it needs.

That’s because if the match starts down low, the Bears have Jeremy Minich, Matt Malfaro, and Jon Neiman at 112 through 125. If it starts in the middle, the Bears throw out Trevor MacMinn, Alex Pellicciotti, and Ryan Kemmerer anywhere from 130 through 145. And if starts up top, the Bears give you Tim Feroe at 152 or 160 and Zach Heffner at 189 or 215. The Indians can counter, mind you, especially with Marty McStravick and Garrett Fellman at 119 and 125, with Mike McStravick at 140, and with Nick Edmonson, Nick Hale, and Jared Bennett in three of the last four weight classes.

So, the bottom line? Make no mistake about it, Boyertown is the favorite. On paper — which, remember, carries absolutely no weight — the Bears should have five wins in their collective pockets and the Indians should have three, and bonus points should come out of all eight of those individual bouts. That leaves six so-called swing bouts … the majority of which Upper Perkiomen not only needs to win, but needs to win with pins, technical falls, and major decisions.

And no matter how it unravels and finishes up, rest assured no one else is going to knock the survivor off the top rung of the PAC-10 standings.

This is an early treat, a championship treat, to keep the wrestling hearts and souls all warm and fuzzy until the postseason heats up next month … enjoy it.

Pellicciotti, who is 2-1 against Upper Perkiomen opponents, will have a bit of added motivation for the showdown. The junior, who has wrestled at 130, 135, and 140 pounds this season, will be shooting for his 100th career win. He is on pace to break the Boyertown record (next season) of 143, held by former teammate Jesse DeWan.

There is one other big PAC-10 match Wednesday night — Perkiomen Valley’s visit to Owen J. Roberts. The Vikings, who know just how good Boyertown is (after losing 61-9 to the Bears last month), are balanced up and down their lineup and are currently No. 3 in the area. The Wildcats feature four outstanding individual talents in lightweights Jonathan Dempsey and Andrew Kinney and upperweights Nick Fuschino and Scott Syrek.


Three of the PAC-10’s new coaches — Methacton’s A.J. Maida, Phoenixville’s Dave Saville, and Pottsgrove’s Jeff Madden — have now gotten into the win column in the league. The fourth, St. Pius’ Matt Houseal, will go for his first when the Lions visit Madden and Falcons on Wednesday night.

Pottsgrove swept the Chichester Duals last weekend, and it’s believed to be the very first regular-season tournament title of any kind in the history of the Falcons’ program. Pottsgrove did win the 1989 District 1-AA championship under Joe Tornetta, now the head coach at Great Valley.


Daniel Boone will find out in a hurry if a third straight Berks Conference Division II title is within its grasp. The Blazers (3-1, 8-5) are at Governor Mifflin (4-0 in Division I) on Wednesday night, then host division rival Conrad Weiser (3-1, 8-2) on Saturday night.


When Ryan Kemmerer picked up his 150th career win last weekend at the Cumberland Valley Duals, he became just the eighth area wrestler to reach the mark. Six of the seven in front of him on The Mercury’s career win chart are Upper Perkiomen graduates, including older brother and all-time leader Zack Kemmerer, whose 199 wins are still tops in the district as well as the state. The brothers’ combined total 349 is also No. 1 in the area, while David and Robert Hoffman, who attended The Hill School and Owen J. Roberts, respectively, combined for 320. Rounding out the area’s Top Five brother combination are the Hill School’s Zach and Orion Doll (272), Spring-Ford’s Matt and Mike Moley (254), and Hill School’s Ty and David Willman (244).

The District 1 brother — make that family — honors go to the Rappos over at Council Rock South. Rick (121), Mike (148), and Mark (152) combined for 421, a number that now stands at 473 when adding in the current totals of the two youngest brothers — sophomore Matt and freshman Billy.


Pottstown joined Spring-Ford and Upper Perkiomen as the only teams with 100 or more wins in the Pioneer Athletic Conference when head coach Eric Dusko and the Trojans opened their dual meet season with a victory over St. Pius X. … Perkiomen Valley will try to make that group a foursome Wednesday night when head coach Tim Walsh’s gang visits Owen J. Roberts.


Neshaminy last week became just the fourth team in District 1 history to reach the 600-win mark. The Redskins reached the milestone by surviving a 37-35 thriller with Truman. … Upper Darby is currently at 594 and could conceivably get six more this week with two Central League matches on Wednesday and Friday followed by the Kennett Duals on Saturday. … Spring-Ford is five wins from reaching 500, while Pottstown is 11 shy of 500. … Ridley is the district’s all-time leader, opening the week with 670 — all of which belong to head coach Carl Schnellenbach.


Young Rams focused on improvement

ROYERSFORD -- Some coaches call it reloading, restructuring, retooling, even that frightening word (rebuilding) some steadfastly refuse to even whisper. But every coach will admit a practice room full of young and inexperienced wrestlers can lead to both an agonizing and long winter.

In other words, not too many wins and a whole heck of a lot of losses.

Of course, there are a number of programs in the area, around District 1 and throughout the state that never quite seem to re-anything from year to year. Methacton, for example, has gone 35 years without a losing season, and only the wrestling gods know how long it’s been since the emperors of District 11 – Easton and Northampton – have gone since finishing under the .500 mark.

The streaks represent consistency to some, absolutely nothing to others.

Like Spring-Ford’s Tim Seislove.

Now in his 10th season with the Rams – 13th overall when adding in his previous three at Pottsgrove – and the owner of a very respectable 116-59 career record after last Saturday’s win at St. Pius X, Seislove doesn’t subscribe to streaks of any kind. And even though Spring-Ford hasn’t finish

ed up on the short side of that won-loss ledger since 1986-87, extending the program’s mark to 22 consecutive seasons isn’t even on his list of things-to-do.

“Sometimes wins are over-rated,” Seislove explained. “Think about it… you can make up a schedule to have any record you want. We have never done that.”

Despite knowing he’d have Spring-Ford’s youngest and most inexperienced roster in recent memory to work with this season, Seislove still didn’t run off to his athletic director or anyone else to tone down the schedule. There was still the Southeast Classic, the Keystone Games Invitational, even a trip to the always difficult Manheim Holiday Tournament for the first time in a number of years. Still ahead are the Parkland Duals, not to mention the annual grind through the Pioneer Athletic Conference, with Boyertown (which already knocked them out 56-15 back on Dec. 17), Upper Perkiomen and several other worthy rivals.

“It’s going to be tough (this season),” Seislove said. “We’re going to have anywhere from seven to nine freshmen and sophomores in our lineup (for duals). But there isn’t anything you can do about it. Each year is different.

“But right now we’re enjoying this, enjoying going to practice. It’s been exciting going into the room with these kids. They have potential, and they’re working hard.”

Unofficially, Spring-Ford’s roster features just four seniors, and only three – Tim Miller, Andrew Cooper and Justin Franiak – who are regulars in the lineup. There are also three freshmen, 18 sophomores and 13 juniors. So the numbers are good, numbers that should bode well for the future if not for right now.

“It really isn’t all that tough to deal with,” Franiak said. “We just have to be patient with the younger guys. Some of us have to help groom them, give them a little confidence.

“There’s really only three seniors, so we have to lead by example. We have to be the hardest workers in the (practice) room, and hope everyone else follows and gets better.”

And that becomes a little easier with the team makeup the Rams have.

“We have a bunch of good kids, good student-athletes,” Seislove said. “They’re fun to be around, too, because they’re working their tails off. All we can do is take practice one day at a time, one match at a time … hope they score as many points as they can and work from there.

“They don’t get frustrated. Of course they don’t like to lose, and they do get upset when they lose. But they don’t let stuff like that affect them. It only motivated them to work harder, to do better.”

One thing that Seislove did not was that a lot of the Rams wrestled in junior high school but not necessarily in youth programs. So as far as experience, or mat time, there is a little catching up to do.

“We’re seeing improvement,” Franiak said. “Some of the guys who were JVs last year are stepping in and doing well, and the seniors are picking it up. Everyone seems to be working harder.”

A labor of love, perhaps, that may or may not be good enough to extend the streak neither the coach cares about or his wrestlers treasure.

“It’s nice to have (the winning streak), but we know we’re going to struggle against some of the better teams,” Seislove said. “We’ll take any win, anything we can get. But right now we’re more worried about getting better.”


Among area teams, there’s no question No. 1 ranked Boyertown had the strongest showing over the holiday break. The Bears, with two notable starters out with injuries, finished second to the state’s No. 1 Northampton at the Cedar Cliff Duals. … No. 2 Upper Perkiomen went a respectable 5-3 at the Battlefield Duals down in Va. … Pottstown’s Eric Daniels, a gold medalist at 145 pounds in the Governor Mifflin Tournament last week, is the area’s lone remaining unbeaten (with 10 or more matches) and shouldn’t get a serious challenge until the postseason. … Perkiomen Valley was seventh at the Wetzel Classic and followed with a third at the Octorara Duals. … Pottsgrove showed its competitiveness with a Top 10 (seventh) finish at the Christmas City Tournament up in Bethlehem.


Quakertown, which has established itself as a legitimate contender for the District 1-AAA Duals title later this month, won last weekend’s Zephyr Duals with a 34-33 thriller over Paramus, N.J. Head coach Kurt Handel’s team outlasted the 16-team field with a few impressive wins, including a 33-30 decision over District 12 power La Salle College High and former Council Rock coach Vic Stanley. … Wyalusing, which finished eighth, is coached by Gary Haley, brother of former Methacton coach and current Boyertown assistant Tony Haley.


Boyertown’s Ryan Kemmerer moved up to No. 8 on The Mercury’s career win chart when four wins over the weekend pushed the senior’s total to 147. Ahead of him at No. 7 is Upper Perkiomen graduate Darren Kern (154). … Upper Perkiomen senior heavyweight Jared Bennett is at 98 and could reach the 100-win mark this week when the Indians hit the road for visits to Pottstown (Wednesday), Downingtown West (Thursday) and Easton (Saturday). … Boyertown teammates Alex Pellicciotti (95) and Tim Feroe (92) are also closing in on the milestone.

Congratulations to Easton head coach Steve Powell, a graduate of West Chester Henderson, who picked up his 400th career win Saturday after the Red Rovers’ 35-28 decision of Council Rock South during the Easton Invitational. … Radnor’s Richard “Skip” Shoemaker, one of the genuine class acts in all of Pennsylvania, picked up his 350th win Saturday with a 33-28 decision of longtime Central League rival Ridley. Shoemaker needs four more wins to tie former Plymouth-Whitemarsh coach Bob Lorence (357) for fourth place on the District 1 win chart.


Boyertown takes on Toms River North (N.J.) this evening (6:00) at Rider in Lawrenceville, N.J. The match will be followed by the host Broncs’ battle with Bloomsburg. A year ago, Rider and Bloomsburg held its match at Boyertown. … The Bears will be at the Cumberland Valley Duals on Saturday. The five-team field features Central Dauphin and host Cumberland Valley, who are ranked one-two in District 3-AAA and No. 3 and No. 12, respectively, in the nation by Amateur Wrestling News. … Owen J. Roberts will be busy Friday and Saturday in the 24-team Escape The Rock Tournament at Council Rock South. …

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Krais, Barnhart headlined a memorable year

It didn’t matter what newspaper you picked up, what Web site you picked out, or what television channel you punched up on your remote, it was virtually impossible to ignore the gloom and doom of 2008 … likely to be forever remembered as the year of The Great Recession.

The numbers on Wall Street whittled away to practically nothing, and retirement funds, 401Ks, pensions – whatever you choose to call them – disappeared. Beloved George’s “economic stimulus package” was a sizable deposit for some of our checkbooks (until the end-of-the-month utility bills burnt it up), and for others it was the cash needed to go out and buy another useless game or gadget (made in another country, of course).

Businesses, big and small, went out of business. Mortgage companies gave us a song and dance (and Fannie Mae isn’t a Disney character, mind you), and the automobile industry executives bragged about getting into their hybrids instead of corporate jets to cut costs. But they all ended up in Washington, D.C., whining (perhaps even dining) long enough to convince our generous politicians to bail them out, again at the little fella’s (the taxpayer, that is) expense.

Bailout – unquestionably “the word” of 2008.

But to get away from it all, from the round-the-clock depressing news and all of the negativity, we only had to watch or read about our local athletes and the teams they played for.

From the 11 or 12 seconds it took for them to get to the finish line to the hour or two for them to finish their game, they entertained us. They gave us a reason to cheer, to hoot and holler … to feel good.

To say they inspired us may be a gross understatement.

None more, perhaps, than Ryan Krais and Nicole Barnhart.

Arguably one of The Mercury area’s greatest high school athletes of all time – male or female – Krais literally rewrote track’s record book. She took her last victory lap, graduated from Methacton and headed out to UCLA, where she’ll pursue her NCAA and Olympic dreams. And Barnhart can attest to Olympic dreams coming true. The Boyertown graduate was a goalie on the U.S. women’s soccer team that won the gold medal at the Summer Games in Beijing, China.

There were great runners, like Mark Denim, Elizabeth Simpson and Jimmy Tarsnane; great swimmers, like Mitch Scherer and Patrick Schirk; and teams, like Pottsgrove boys soccer and Spring-Ford baseball, that played well beyond their overachieving tags to reach their respective sport’s state finals, as well as the Spring City Junior Legion and Boyertown American Legion ballclubs, who added state titles to their already storied summer programs.

Last spring, Phoenixville graduate Mike Piazza

– the greatest hitting catcher in the history of Major League baseball – bid farewell to the game. But in the fall, the Phillies captured area fans’ hearts and souls by winning the World Series. Boyertown’s Mike Ondo and Limerick Township’s Hank King – an integral part of the ballclub’s championship season – paraded down Broad Street, too.

Not a bad year at all.

Great Recession, perhaps. But a lot of athletes, young and not-so-young, left a Great Impression in 2008.

* * *

The following are The Mercury sports staff’s Top 10 stories of 2008…

1. Ryan Krais: The Methacton senior set a record (3,823 points) by winning her third straight pentathlon at the Nike Indoor Nationals in Maryland last winter, then in April set the pace in the 400 hurdles at the prestigious Penn Relays in Philadelphia. Before spring ended, she dominated at districts and states – winning the long jump, high jump and 300 hurdles in Shippensburg to give Methacton the PIAA-Class AAA state title – and finished with 12 district and nine state gold medals. After being named The Mercury’s Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year for the fourth straight season, she competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials and at the World Junior Championships in Poland. … “In my opinion, Ryan is the best athlete I’ve ever seen,” said Rob Ronzano, her coach at Methacton.

2. Nicole Barnhart: At Boyertown, she made quite a spectacle of herself, in the classroom (with a 4.2 grade-point average) and on the soccer field (playing on the boys team because there wasn’t a girls team yet). She was awarded a full scholarship to Stanford University, where she not only graduated with a double major in studio art and psychology, but set a slew of records as the Cardinal goalie. She played in the World Cup, then grabbed the headlines in the Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament final when she made a number of outstanding saves – including the stop of a penalty kick – in the shootout victory over Canada. Despite undergoing knee surgery in May, she was on the U.S. Olympic team in China as a backup to Hope Solo. … “People always ask what was it like,” Barnhart said. “It’s really hard to put into words. It’s something you definitely dream about. … something I definitely did. To actually be there was amazing. It’s something I’ll treasure forever. t still seems a bit surreal at times.”

3. Mike Piazza: Despite his explosive bat, he was tagged as weak-arm, too-slow first baseman at Phoenixville back in the mid-80s. Twentysome years later, Piazza retired as professional baseball’s greatest hitting catcher. And when he walked away from the game last spring, he was tagged as a first-ballot guarantee for induction into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The National League Rookie of the Year in 1993 and 12-time All-Star, Piazza retired with a .308 career batting average, the most home runs by a catcher (396) and 427 overall, 1,335 RBI. … “I felt it is time to start a new chapter in my life,” Piazza said. “It has been an amazing journey.”

4. Phillies: It had been 25 years since the City of Philadelphia had celebrated a world championship, and none seemed to tug at the sports-crazed fans’ heartstrings more than the Phillies run to the National League pennant and World Series title. Behind the scenes, almost every day on the road, Limerick resident Hank King was the advance scout and providing the Phillies with everything they needed to know about an upcoming opponent. He did it for a long time, and did it well … so well, in fact, that later this month he’ll be presented the prestigious George Genovese Lifetime Achievement Award during the Spirit of the Game Dinner in Los Angeles. And Boyertown graduate Mike Ondo, the assistant director of minor league operations in his 11th year with the Phillies. The 33-year-old Ondo handled his responsibilities so well that a couple of months ago was promoted and named the organization’s pro scouting director.

5. Mark Dennin: Last winter, the Boyertown senior admitted he wasn’t too sure what direction his running career was heading in. It all changed at the Penn Relays, when he shocked the field and ran away from everyone in the 3,000 meters with a personal-best winning time of 8:30.11. Later in the spring, he ran off with a hat trick – winning the 3,200 meters in the Pioneer Athletic Conference, District 1 and PIAA state championships.

6. State Runners-up: Last spring, Spring-Ford’s baseball team had more losses and than wins in the early going. But as the season progressed, so did the Rams. After a surprising but nonetheless disappointing third-place finish in the District 1-Class AAA Tournament, they strung together four straight wins to reach the state final, where they lost a rain-delayed, marathon showdown with Canon-McMillan. … And this past fall, the Pottsgrove boys soccer team didn’t even survive the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s Final Four semifinals. But the Falcons, whose program has had little to shout about in the past, blanked Holy Ghost Prep, 2-0, for the District 1-Class AA title, then went on a run that didn’t end until a 1-0 setback to Susquehannock in the state final.

7. Mitch Scherer: It had been a few years since anyone was so dominant in the pool, but the Owen J. Roberts’ senior sure made a noticeable splash. Scherer helped the Wildcats to their sixth straight Pioneer Athletic Conference title, was golden at the District 1-Class AAA Championships – and named the district’s Swimmer of the Year – before closing out the season with a gold medal in the 100-yard breaststroke at the PIAA Championships.

8. Jimmy Tarsnane: After running in the shadows of some great runners around the Pioneer Athletic Conference and throughout the district and state, the Perkiomen Valley standout stood out and above everyone. This past fall, Tarsnane ran away with the PAC-10 cross country championship and bounced back from a disappointing trot at the districts to win the gold medal at the PIAA Championships.

9. Patrick Schirk: Penn State has had a swimming program for 41 years, but never a swimming champion until Schirk’s golden performance at the 2008 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in Washington. A graduate of Owen J. Roberts, where he set so many school, district and state records, Schirk won the gold medal in the 200-meter backstroke for the Nittany Lions.

10. A Special Foursome: Bad news, so they say, comes in threes. In 2008, it came in “four” with the passing of Barry Trate, Joe Edwards, Dave Ricketts and Randy Gumpert. Trate was one of baseball’s big hitters, not so much as a player back in the 1950s, but as a devoted coach, role model and loyal fan of the game from those days until losing his battle with cancer last February. “What a great man, a genuine gentleman, a man who will be missed by everyone,” said Boyertown American Legion baseball chairman Ross Smith. … Edwards was a teacher and coach at Owen J. Roberts, respected in the classroom as much as he was on the football field, loved by all who knew him. “Mr. Edwards was like 5-foot-6 or so … a man of small stature, but a man with such large presence,” said Rudy Glocker, a former linebacker-tight end during the Wildcats’ incredible run in the 1980s who later played at Penn State. “Joe epitomized what a coach is, or should be,” added Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker. Edwards passed away in May. … There are many who say Ricketts was the greatest athlete to graduate from Pottstown High School. Few could argue. He went on to become an All-American in both baseball and basketball at Duquesne University, playing on the school’s 1955 NIT championship team. He also played for the Cardinals’ 1967 World Series championship team and worked for the organization for more than 30 years as a coach and instructor. “Sometimes the word great is overused … (there) have been some truly great Cardinals that have come through our organization, but I don’t know anybody who was as great or more beloved than Dave Ricketts,” said St. Louis manager Tony La Russa. Ricketts lost his battle to cancer in July. … Gumpert, a native of Monocacy, pitched in the major leagues for the Yankees and four other ballclubs for 10 years, won 51 games and owned a career 4.17 earned average. He was an American Legion All-Star in 1951, the season he gave up Mickey Mantle’s first home run. A member of the Daniel Boone Wall of Fame, Reading Phillies, Berks and Pennsylvania Sports and Major League Scouting halls of fame, Gumpert was truly one of the beloved ambassadors of the game. He passed away in November.

Honorable Mention

Auto Racing: Jeff Strunk continuing his streak of modified division championships at Grandview Speedway. Baseball: NorChester dominating the Chester County American Legion League and Pennsylvania Region Three Tournament fields for two more championships; and Spring City’s Prep (13 year olds) and Junior Legion teams, as well as Boyertown’s American Legion team, swinging their way to state titles. Basketball (Boys): Daniel Boone advancing to the PIAA-Class AAA quarterfinals and finishing with a school-record 25 wins. Basketball (Girls): St. Pius X defeated Delco Christian, 60-37, for its sixth straight District 1-Class AA championship; Methacton, behind senior Renee Womack, opening with 28 consecutive wins before a 41-39 setback to Downingtown East in the District 1-AAAA final, then finishing with a school-record 30-2 overall mark; Spring-Ford, with teammates Megan Bedard and Allie Kakareka both topping the 1,000-point career milestone, winning its third straight PAC-10 title and recording its first win in state tournament play. Basketball (Men): Ursinus College, advancing to the NCAA Division III Final Four in Salem, Va. Cross Country: Boyertown’s Elizabeth Simpson winning the PAC-10 and District 1-Class AAA titles. Field Hockey (Women): Ursinus capturing its fifth straight Centennial Conference championship. Softball: Owen J. Roberts won the District 1-AAA title. Track and Field: St. Pius X senior Steph Fulmer captures a state title in the 1,600 meters during the PIAA-Class AA.