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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, March 4, 2011

Injury forces OJR’s Syrek to sit out final postseason run

This article was originally published in the Feb. 15, 2011 edition of The Mercury.

Scott Syrek rarely ever failed to come up with the right move at the right time to win a wrestling match. Brute-like physical strength alone may have been good enough for him in a lot of instances, or so some had first thought. But extraordinary instincts — that sense of not only knowing what to do at any given moment but how to execute it – is what separated him from so many of the upperweights he confronted throughout his four seasons at Owen J. Roberts.

Unfortunately, the one thing the Syrek couldn’t quite ever escape from was the constant throbbing in his left shoulder.

So last week, not long after his 56-second fall helped the Wildcats pin down its first Pioneer Athletic Conference championship – the program’s first wrestling title of any kind in 36 long years – the soft-spoken Syrek called it quits. He had given as much as he could. He had gone as long as he possibly could.

And his emotions ran deep, stinging nearly as much as the pain in that left shoulder.

“Frustrated is probably the right word … I think that kind of hits the nail on the head,” Syrek said of his decision to sit out what would’ve been the fourth and final postseason of his outstanding career, a career that unfortunately will close prematurely with three appearances in the state tournament, one state medal, and 112 wins overall.

“It hurts knowing I put in all the hard work like everyone else did and won’t get a chance to finish it out. My goal was always to win a state title.”

Very few people outside the Syrek household were even aware of exactly when or how badly he injured his shoulder.

But most agree it happened during his very first match in the Owen J. Roberts gym –just over a week after the 189-pound freshman debuted with five impressive wins during the season-opening Bear Duals up in Boyertown.

“It was the sixth match of his freshman year,” OJR head coach Steve DeRafelo recalled. “Scott was wrestling (eventual state runner-up) Marc Petroski of Springfield-Delco, who ran a power-half and Scott wouldn’t go. I remember Scott coming off the mat and telling me, ‘I think I felt something tear.’

“We really didn’t know what happened for a long time. We knew he was hurt, but we didn’t know how bad.”

Syrek suffered a partial labral tear —actually tears to the front and back labrum tissue.

Despite the injury, Syrek wrestled his way to states and a 39-10 record that freshman year. He came back as a sophomore and, despite defaulting three postseason bouts, managed to return to states again, picked up a sixth-place medal and added 31 more wins to his ledger. Last year, however, the injury — and the pain — worsened. He was forced to default or forfeit three more postseason bouts and was nowhere near 100 percent on his third trip to states, an appearance that ended after three matches.

So last May, Syrek underwent surgery to “get things sewed up” as he explained. He spent five months in rehab before even stepping on a mat. He wasn’t in the lineup when OJR opened this season back in December, but was ready to return for the Beast of the East Classic right before Christmas … or ready until he re-injured the shoulder right before the trip down to Delaware.

No Beast … but he finally got on the mats Jan. 13, helping the Wildcats defeat PAC-10 rival Perkiomen Valley. The following night, he posted back-to-back wins in the rugged Escape The Rock Tournament over at Council Rock South … then injury defaulted to Solanco’s Thomas Haines and, unfortunately, was done for the weekend.

“I was concealing it because I thought it was just a strain,” Syrek explained. “But after the (Escape The Rock), I decided there wasn’t much I could do. I didn’t want to quit right there and then, but there was so much going on in my mind, and all of it was creating a lot of stress.”

Incredibly, Syrek didn’t walk away from his teammates.

Despite the pain, he went back out for six more bouts – and didn’t lose one – all of which helped OJR beat back challenges from four-time defending league champion Boyertown as well as from Spring-Ford, and earned the Wildcats a third-place finish in the District 1-AAA Team Duals and unprecedented berth in the state duals.

“It was really important to me that we win the PAC-10 title,” said Syrek, who never lost a PAC-10 match in his three-plus seasons. “I just wanted to help the team in any way I could. (After getting hurt at the Escape The Rock) I knew I couldn’t win a state title. That’s when my goals changed.”

“All Scott’s ever wanted to do was win a state title,” DeRafelo added. “But when he hurt that shoulder again he knew he couldn’t do it. I think everyone pretty much knew he wouldn’t be able to make a legitimate run at that.

“But he put that all aside and was back at it to help our team win. And he was absolutely a big part of us winning the title. It was hard for everyone else not to go out there and battle after watching what Scott was going through for them and our team.”

DeRafelo honestly believes Syrek was 100 percent for those first five bouts of his high school career, somewhere around 80 percent after the Petroski match and all the way up to last year’s postseason … but nowhere near that figure at states last March or at any point this year.

“Not too many people have ever been aware of how hurt Scott’s been,” DeRafelo said. “A lot of people had a lot of unrealistic expectations. He was never healthy, so it’s hard to imagine how he did what he did, how he managed to have one of the best careers of any upperweight we’ve ever had around here. He overcame a lot. Right now, we all feel bad for him.”

Eventually, the Penn State-bound Syrek admitted, he’ll feel a lot better.

“I’m having (shoulder) surgery shoulder March 2,” he said. “I’ll rehab it … then give it another go.”


BREAKTHROUGHS: Perkiomen Valley ended its 0-for-9 streak against Boyertown last week with a 40-30 decision of the ailing Bears. The Vikings, who had never beaten the four-time defending champion Bears, were outscored by an average 58-13 margin in those previous nine losses. … Pope John Paul II broke into the PAC-10 win column for the first time with its 45-36 victory over Phoenixville last week.

BREAKING THROUGH: Owen J. Roberts last week became the first team other than Boyertown, Spring-Ford or Upper Perkiomen to win or share a PAC-10 title since Great Valley and Spring-Ford finished atop the standings in 1997. And beyond than those four, Pottstown is the only other team to pin down a title (1987 and 1989).

FOR THE RECORD: Perkiomen Valley’s Gavin Milligan became his school’s winningest wrestler last week. The senior 145-pounder has 112 career wins, one more than the late Tim Smith. … Milligan is the second area wrestler to work his way to the top of his school’s career win chart. Earlier, Zach Robinson (now at 121) achieved the feat at Pottsgrove. … Daniel Boone’s Colin Martucci is within seven of the Blazers’ mark (116, held by Tyler Swartz).

MILESTONES AHEAD: Three more area wrestlers – Phoenixville’s Ken Cenci (99), Methacton’s Rob D’Annunzio (98), and Pottsgrove’s T.J. Demetrio (97) – should reach the 100-win mark during this weekend’s sectionals. … Spring-Ford’s Matt Krueger (94) and Owen J. Roberts’ Jonathan Dempsey (92) are also within reach heading into the postseason.



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