Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

OJR students getting with the program

This column originally ran in the Feb. 2, 2010 edition of The Mercury.

BUCKTOWN – Steve DeRafelo has noticed a number of Owen J. Roberts students walking the hallways with wrestling sweatshirts on this winter… wrestling sweatshirts, mind you.

And they’re not wrestlers attempting to make a fashion statement for their program, either.

“I’ve been surprised to see so many of them,” DeRafelo said.

The entire season has been kind of a surprise for DeRafelo, in his eighth year as Owen J. Roberts’ head coach.

The Wildcats are very young. Their roster features just three seniors, one of whom hadn’t stepped onto the mat until this season, and six juniors, and only two of the seniors and four of the juniors are regulars. Three of the four sophomores have occupied slots in most of the matches, and a promising but unproven gang of eight freshmen round out the roster. And, with the exception of regional qualifier Jonathan Dempsey and state medalist Scott Syrek – both juniors – most of the Wildcats got bumped and thumped as well as twisted and turned every which way imaginable throughout a grueling December.

That first month included the Brian Bealer Memorial Bear Duals and match-ups with Big Spring, among the top seeds in this week’s District 3-AAA Team Duals; nationally ranked St. Mark’s of Del.; and Council Rock North and Upper Moreland, who are lined up for Friday night’s District 1-AAA Team Duals quarterfinals. Then there was the Buckskin Classic out at Conestoga Valley, and the Pioneer Athletic Conference showdown with three-time defending champion Boyertown. And soon after flipping the calendar there was the brutal Escape The Rock tournament over in Bucks County.

“We’ve had a tough, tough schedule this year,” DeRafelo explained. “Early on it was difficult at times to gauge where we were at, especially with such a young team. But these kids have really been stepping it up lately.”

Others have noticed, too.

For the first time since rejoining their former Ches-Mont League rivals in the Pioneer Athletic Conference back in 1988-89, Owen J. Roberts has beaten both Upper Perkiomen (39-25) and Spring-Ford (37-23) in the same season. If they avoided an upset by Methacton on Monday night, and can get the best of longtime rival Pottstown on Wednesday night and Phoenixville in their finale next week, the Wildcats will finish second – behind Boyertown – in the PAC-10 for the first time.

The talent cycle sure has helped, but not quite as much as DeRafelo and his assistants at last getting on equal ground with everyone else, from his own wrestlers on down through to the wrestlers and coaching staffs at the middle school and in the NorChester Red Knights’ youth program.

“Putting our kids on the medal stand out at (the PIAA Championships in) Hershey the last few years has helped immensely,” DeRafelo said. “It helps from the standpoint of kids buying into the system. That’s where they want to be, and when they see others like them up on that medal stand they know what they have to do to get there.

“They look at a kid like (2009 graduate) Nick Fuschino, a two-time state medalist who really came out of nowhere after his freshman year. They saw what Nick did. They start to believe they can do it, too.”

DeRafelo has been as impressed with his current class of freshmen as any before them.

“We have a group of very talented freshmen,” he said. “They all want to be good, and they’re willing to do what they have to do to be good. They’re willing to do what a lot of other kids won’t do. They’re willing to take the next step.”

Among the OJR freshmen making noticeable contributions thus far are Peter Fratantoni at 103, Kyle Shronk at 119, Adam Moser at 130 and Gordon Bolig at 145. Sophomores like Jacob Schell, Andrew Kinney, Michael Lenge and Paul Minninger have helped fortify the belly of the lineup. Among the juniors, Dempsey is headed for another 25-plus win season down low; Jordan Moser has overcome a series of injuries and may end up with 20-plus in the middle; and unsung Sam Funk and Syrek – ranked among the state’s top 215-pounders – have battled anywhere from 189 through 285 because the Wildcats don’t have a heavyweight.

“Looking at where we were at Christmas and where we’re at now ... I can’t believe it,” DeRafelo said after last week’s win over Spring-Ford. “All the kids have worked hard.”

And so have all of their coaches, which doesn’t go unnoticed with DeRafelo.

“Everyone is working together now,” he explained. “We looked at what Upper Perkiomen and Boyertown has been doing, trying to learn how their programs have had so much success. We coordinated our whole program where everyone works together, where everyone is on the same page. When you do that, good things happen.”

* * *

The Wildcats opened the District 1-AAA duals grind last Thursday with a 47-23 romp over Haverford, which was 17-1 going into the match. The win sets up Friday night’s quarterfinal showdown with No. 1 seeded Council Rock South. … OJR’s last venture into the district duals was back in 2006. They lost in the opening round to Boyertown by, believe it or not, 47-23.


The Hill School (4-6) closes out its regular season this Saturday (2 p.m.) at home against Lawrenceville. Head coach Jesse Young and the Blues’ grind through February features the Mid-Atlantic Prep League Championships at Mercersburg the following weekend, then the state preps and national preps the following two weekends at Westtown School and Lehigh University, respectively. … The tireless Tim Klavon and his limited Perkiomen School lineup has managed to go 5-8 thus far, have a visit to Faith Christian this Thursday, then close at Lower Moreland next week before joining Hill at the state preps.


Daniel Boone’s bid to get into the District 3-AAA Team Duals eluded them following Saturday’s loss to Governor Mifflin in the opening round of the Berks County team championships. The Blazers, who’ll share the Berks’ Division II title with Muhlenberg, are 12-6 overall and close out their dual-meet season this week against Wyomissing.

* * *

Two-time defending champion Central Dauphin (12-0) drew the top seed for the District 3-AAA duals, while Spring Grove (12-0), Cumberland Valley (10-5), Cedar Cliff (19-2) and unbeaten Solanco (11-0) round out the Top Five seeds. … In AA, unbeaten Berks County champion Schuylkill Valley (22-0) will shoot for its second straight title. Unbeatens Juniata (24-0) and Boiling Springs (15-0), along with Bermudian Springs (15-2) and Wyomissing (11-4) round out the Top Five seeds. .. Both brackets open tonight and culminate with the finals Saturday evening at Milton-Hershey’s Spartan Center.


Oxford’s Scott Gold reached the 400-win career mark last week, becoming the second District 1 coach to reach the milestone this season and just the third overall. Ridley’s Carl Schnellenbach, in his 49th season, had a state-record 682 going into last weekend, and Haverford’s Jimmy Jones, in his 45th season, has 403 going into this week’s match with Penncrest. … The area leaders in career wins are Boyertown’s Bruce Hallman and Pottstown’s Jim Tsakonas, who retired with 303 and 302, respectively.


It seems as though the last time Blair Academy lost a dual meet, let alone a tournament title, was before the American flag had 50 stars. But, believe it or not, the No. 1 ranked Bucs got beat, 36-21, by No. 3 Graham in St. Paris, Ohio last Saturday night.

“(Graham) got the momentum going right out of the chute,” Blair head coach Jeff Buxton told the Springfield News-Sun. “We had to move some guys around and it backfired.”

The Bucs’ misfires – or backfires – came when 112-pound Evan Silver, ranked No. 1 at 112, moved up to 119 and lost a 3-1 decision to No. 4 Nick Brascetta; and when Austin Ormsbee, ranked No. 4 at 135, moved up to 140 and fell 10-3 to Ohio state champion Felipe Martinez.

Graham swept nine of the 14 bouts before a standing-room-only crowd of 1,000-plus fans, many of whom called the win wrestling’s version of “The Hoosiers.”

* * *

Amateur Wrestling News, InterMat and USA Wrestling Magazine all listed Blair at No. 1, Apple Valley (Minn.) at No. 2, and Graham at No. 3 in their newest rankings released earlier last week. … Three Pennsylvania teams – Wyoming Seminary (No. 5), Central Dauphin (No. 6) and Central Mountain (No. 7) – were also among the Top 10.



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