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, March 15, 2013

Heartbreak, triumph a guarantee at PIAA Championships

This column was originally published in the March 6, 2013 print edition of The Mercury.

Upper Perkiomen's Wolfgang McStravick
made his third appearance at the PIAA Championships.
(Mercury File Photo/Photo/Tom Kelly III)
HERSHEY – A history book on Pioneer Athletic Conference wrestling at the PIAA Championships would be a good read, perhaps the quintessential novel with chapters detailing the heartbreak and obvious disappointment of defeat, others explicating the excitement and elation of victory.

Then again, it would be much like the book written about nearly every league in Pennsylvania.
And, unfortunately, very much like the story or stories surely to be written about the PAC-10’s nine qualifiers competing on this week’s stage here at the Giant Center.

The current cast of characters in the PAC-10’s 27th annual series features Boyertown’s Eddie Kriczky and Jordan Wood; Methacton’s Tracey Green; Owen J. Roberts’ Derek Gulotta, Colby Frank and Gordon Bolig; Perkiomen Valley’s Nick Giangiulio; Spring-Ford’s Tyler McGuigan; and Upper Perkiomen’s Wolfgang McStravick.

Some of that crew may only make cameo appearances – lose twice today, head home and, like so many before them, not get much more than a line or two in the history book. Others may be around for all three days with win after win, by how much and how often no one knows for sure, but will nonetheless add a substantial storyline to the newest chapter, or become a principal part of it at the very least.

A few factors determine who leaves and who sticks around, though. Among them are a little luck of the draw, or who is wrestling who in the early going; who’s hot and who’s not; and, most important, who can step on a mat – in arguably the roughest, toughest high school wrestling tournament in all of America – with the confidence and determination to win.

“If you’re not ready to wrestle here you lose,” former Upper Perkiomen head coach Tom Schleicher said the day before his prized 103-pound freshman Brad Rozanski became the PAC-10’s first of two state qualifiers – the other being Phoenixville senior heavyweight Todd Van Horn – back in 1987.

Ready is one thing, armed and ready is indeed another, because for three days in early March, as it’s been in all of the previous 75 state championships, there are absolutely no gimmes here.

And respect is fleeting, so very hard to earn without win after win after win. Especially without at least one medal in hand.

McStravick can attest to that, perhaps better than any of the other eight PAC-10 qualifiers. This is his third trip to the season-ending spectacle and he owns just one win thus far. McStravick’s a senior now, but despite being a three-time qualifier with a gaudy 46-6 record and 152 career wins, he’s ranked 16th – the bottom – among those in his 132-pound weight class. And this afternoon he opens against a returning state medalist.

Gulotta and Bolig are back for the second time.

The 113-pound Gulotta, who a year ago joined a very short list of area freshman to win a state medal, is only ranked eighth. That’s because he happens to be part of a weight class that includes seven returning medalists (with a combined 11 medals), three of whom are nationally ranked. And he’ll open against a returning state qualifier today.

The 182-pound Bolig, who sandwiched a win in between losses to the eventual state champion and seventh-place finisher a year ago, is 45-5 with 125 career wins and only ranked seventh. Not bad, perhaps, but he starts his final appearance here against a two-time regional champion and state medalist.

Frank, Kriczky, Giangiulio, McGuigan, Wood and Green – despite all their years of wrestling and previous achievements – will learn rather quickly how nothing comes easy here, as McStravick, Gulotta and Bolig did before them, as McStravick, Gulotta and Bolig probably already told them.
The proof is in their brackets.

At 126, Frank (27-4) has an opponent with 116 career wins, and Kriczky (38-10) – who worked as hard and as impressively as anyone to survive this overloaded weight class at the Southeast Regional – debuts against a once-beaten freshman who surrendered just one measly point in winning four bouts and a regional title last weekend.

At 152, Giangiulio (36-3) gets a senior with 117 career wins. At 170, McGuigan (35-7) has to deal with an unbeaten regional champion and three-time state qualifier. At 220, Wood (43-1) – who has had to deal with the hype that’s already touting him as one of District 1’s all-time freshman greats – gets a returning state qualifier with 101 career wins. And at 285, Green (35-3) meets up with a seasoned senior with 102 career wins.

And all that is just for openers.

The reward for winning that first match is a spot in the even more pressurized quarterfinals, where another win would reserve a step somewhere on the medal stand on Saturday night. The consolation for losing that opener is a spot in the wrestlebacks, where the bottom line is win-or-go-home.
There may not be a more coveted medal in all of Pennsylvania high school sports than those presented every year here at the PIAA Wrestling Championships.

And there may not be a more intriguing read, year after year, than the next chapter on the history of Pioneer Athletic Conference wrestling at the PIAA Championships.


Rozanski’s debut as the PAC-10 first state qualifier to step on the mat in Hershey ended in a 12-1 loss to Nazareth’s eventual state champion Brad Silemperi – the head coach at Council Rock South. Rozanski didn’t qualify for states as a sophomore, but came back to take third as a junior and first as a senior. … Van Horn, now an administrator at Pottsgrove High School who helps out with the Falcons’ wrestling program, went 0-2. … Future PAC-10 members Boyertown and Methacton were also represented in 1987 by Jason Bonney and Eric Moser, respectively. ... This year’s nine qualifiers gives the PAC-10 an overall total of 217, with Upper Perkiomen (58), Boyertown (36), Spring-Ford (33) and Owen J. Roberts (26) alone accounting for 71 percent of the count. … Upper Perkiomen (25), Boyertown (13) and Spring-Ford (11) are the only programs with double-digit state medalists.

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OJR’s Bolig not one to shy away from a challenge

Owen J. Roberts’ Gordon Bolig grapples
with Nezar Haddad of Parkland in the
182-pound match at the PIAA Class AAA
Team Duals Tournament at Giant Center in Hershey.
Bolig won 3-1 in overtime.  (Mercury file photo)
This column was originally published in the March 5, 2013, print edition of The Mercury.

POTTSTOWN — No one was surprised to see Norristown’s Brett Harner and Owen J. Roberts’ Gordon Bolig advance through their 182-pound bracket and meet in Saturday night’s final of the AAA Southeast Regional.

No one was happier, either, than Bolig.

“It was good to wrestle him,” said Bolig, never one to turn down an opportunity to wrestle a good opponent.

Well, Harner is about as good as it gets. Pound for pound, he’s arguably the best in District 1.  He has 187 career wins, a total that could easily be higher if not for Norristown’s demanding schedule. He’s a three-time district champion, three-time regional champion, and three-time state medalist. He’s also nationally ranked.

“I wanted to see what he was like,” Bolig said. “I wanted to see what makes him so good. I sure found out.”

Bolig, who showed how dominating he can be with a quarterfinal pin and how clutch he can be with a thrilling one-point semifinal decision, was no match for the versatile Harner in the final. Though closer at times than the score may have implied, he fell behind 8-0 midway through the final period before three back points in the waning seconds closed out the 11-0 loss to Harner.

“He’s certainly tough on his feet, hard to get out from on the bottom, and you’re not going to ride him, either,” Bolig said of Harner shortly after receiving his silver medal and reservation in Thursday’s opening round of the PIAA Championships out in Hershey.

While Bolig doesn’t own as eye-popping a resume as Harner does, he is still quite the competitor. He’s come a long, long way since his freshman season, which ended with a rather abrupt exit from the Section Four Tournament and a mediocre 14-12 record. As a sophomore, he worked his way to the regional and more than doubled his win total with 32. Last year, he was golden at sections and districts, finished third at the regional to qualify for states, and again upped his win total to 34 before he was done.

This winter, Bolig has not only reached some lofty expectations but soared by a few.

The loss to Harner was only his fifth in 50 bouts. The first two occurred back in December at the Beast of the East Classic — one to two-time national prep champion and the nation’s No. 1 ranked Eric Morris of Wyoming Seminary, the other to two-time national prep medalist and Princeton-bound Troy Murtha of Georgetown Prep, Md. The other two setbacks were in mid-January at the Escape the Rock, both to Princeton-bound Nezar Haddad of Parkland, one of which he avenged with a sudden-victory win over Haddad during last month’s state team duals.

“A few times we thought about bumping (Bolig) around, but he always wants to go out and wrestle the best,” OJR head coach Steve DeRafelo said earlier this season. “That’s the way he is. He works so hard. He’s tough. And he wants to go against the best.”

Bolig will get an up-close look at Pennsylvania’s best later this week at states, where he debuts against Belle Vernon senior Adam Nickelson (37-2), the Southwest Region runner-up who was eighth in the state a year ago. Should he beat Nickelson, he’ll no doubt see Bald Eagle Area’s unbeaten and returning bronze medalist Jacob Taylor, who is one spot in front of Harner at No. 4 in the national rankings.
“Going out against all (the highly-touted opposition) doesn’t bother me,” Bolig said Saturday night. “I just know I have to wrestle well. Yeah, it makes you a little nervous, but I try to visualize the match warming up, then go out and attempt to hit my moves.

“This loss (to Harner) shouldn’t have any effect on me. Everyone knew he was favored, and everyone knows he’ll be favored (at states) with Taylor. I just know I have to get two more wins to get a medal. I won’t be thinking of this or any other losses when I get out there.”

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Boyertown's Wood living up to the hype

This column was originally published in the Feb. 28, 2013 edition of The Mercury.
There didn’t seem to be a wrestling soul anywhere in the area, or around the state for that matter, who hadn’t heard of Jordan Wood before he strolled into Boyertown’s practice room for the first time last November.
In other words, the 14-year-old freshman’s reputation preceded him… as did some rather lofty expectations, the result of his success in youth and junior high school wrestling.
Wood hasn’t disappointed anyone since, either.
Going into tonight’s opening round of the Class AAA Southeast Regional at Pottstown High School, the 220-pound phenom has proven time and time again there’s no noticeable chink in his wrestling armor. He has won 26 in a row since his only loss to Wyoming Seminary’s highly regarded Garrett Ryan during the Hurricane Classic at Bethlehem Liberty four days after Christmas. And that was no upset, mind you, not when considering InterMat’s No. 11 ranked Ryan was a state prep champion two weeks ago and the national prep runner-up to the almighty Kyle Snyder of Good Counsel (Md.) last weekend.
“There is still a lot of pressure (to win),” Wood admitted following Wednesday’s workout. “I push past that and forget about it when I wrestle.”
Easier said than done.
But Wood has done it, beating a combined 16 section, district and regional champions from a year ago. Add to that total a victory over returning Class AA heavyweight state champion Nazar Mironenko of Mifflinburg. And if that isn’t enough, he’s also gotten the best of nine other postseason medalists from a year ago, all of which adds up to a gaudy 40-1 record.
Not bad for a youngster who didn’t give up on the sport despite some unwelcomed challenges early on.
“I thought it would be cool to try (wrestling) when I was in first grade,” Wood explained. “I really started to like it after a few years. But I was always big for my age, so I started to wrestle some big sixth-graders, and for a couple of years it was tough. Then after I got the hang of it it became fun.”
Winning countless PJW and MAWA titles – as well as the junior high school division of the Super 32 Challenge two years ago — certainly helped make wrestling more enjoyable.
“A lot of my friends were older and I was always training with them, so I haven’t had that typical life of a 14-year-old (wrestler). I’ve done a lot of things related to wrestling that not a lot of others do. And it’s been fun taking trips all over the state and country to compete in wrestling tournaments.”
Yet as good as he’s been, Wood — the son of Jen and John Wood — felt he turned an important corner in his career this past summer while taking advantage of the open mats program at the Boyertown YMCA … and working out with a lot of Boyertown alumni and college wrestlers.
“They beat me up pretty bad,” Wood explained. “But it helped me a lot in getting ready for my freshman year. I picked up more mat awareness.”
Not to mention being focused on and aware of whom he shakes hands with right before the opening whistle of every bout. He realizes there are no guarantees, that a reputation doesn’t win any bout.
“I try to look at everyone like it’s going to be a tough match, like it could be my last match,” Wood said.
That’s why Wood isn’t looking beyond tonight’s opener, or a possible semifinal, or a potentially explosive final against rival Pat Finn or Pottsgrove, Tyler Callender of Council Rock North or, of course, an out-and-out brawl with defending champion Mike Boykin of Coatesville.
It’s an approach that puts his goals, as lofty as they may be, in perspective.
“My goals haven’t changed yet, I still want to win states,” Wood said. “And I can always keep working for more, especially being a freshman. But right now I just hope to win the regional title. I take everything step by step. I’m just aiming to be the best.”
* * *
If there’s someone who can relate to that step-by-step approach right now it is Boyertown teammate Gregg Harvey, another freshman who had some youth and junior high credentials of his own but was thought to be a year, perhaps two, away from stepping into the postseason limelight.
But the 152-pound Harvey is ahead of schedule after winning last week’s District 1-AAA West title and improving to 29-11.
“I’ve always known you can’t overlook anyone,” Harvey said. “But that doesn’t mean you can stop wrestling. I never stop wrestling. I just keep coming and coming.”
His aggressive (and often called funky) style helped him avenge two previous losses to Perkiomen Valley’s very good Nick Giangiulio in the district semifinals, and may have been the difference in his narrow decision of Upper Perkiomen’s Ray Young in the final.
His work ethic, from the very beginning, sure has helped, too.
“I was only 3 years old when I was out on the mat with my brother,” Harvey explained. “I was rolling around with some other young guys, including the Wertz brothers (Dylan and Jordan). I liked (wrestling) right away, and I couldn’t wait to get back to practice the next day.
“I think my work ethic has gotten a lot better the last few years, too. I feel stronger, and my endurance is a lot better than others right now.”
Few could argue with Harvey’s turnaround. He was up and down through the early part of the season, but has won 14 of his 16 times out — the only two losses a pair of decisions to 145-pound district champion Adam Moser of Owen J. Roberts and Giangiulio.
The recent flurry of wins have also enabled Harvey to update a couple of his goals he set out to reach in the beginning of the season.
“My main goal was to make it to regionals and get 25 wins,” he explained. “I thought they were realistic goals, too. I didn’t think I’d take first at districts, but I feel I’m peaking, at the top of my game since (the PAC-10 Championships). So now that I’ve passed them I’d like get a medal at states and have 35 wins.”
Either way, Harvey — the son of Elizabeth and Gregg Harvey Sr. — has considerably more to shoot for in the coming years.
“I’m very happy winning districts as a freshman,” he said. “That’s made me set some bigger goals for my sophomore, junior and senior years.”
* * *
Both Harvey and Wood, along with teammates Eddie Kriczky (126) and Cody Richmond (160), will be shooting for a top-three finish that would extend Boyertown’s current streak of 17 consecutive years with at least one state qualifier. The streak began in 1996 with Zack Miller’s fifth-place finish when the Bears competed in District 3. The school returned to District 1 in 2002-03.

Peaking PAC-10 showing strength in numbers

This column was originally published in the Feb. 26, 2013 edition of The Mercury.
All things are indeed relative, even in wrestling believe it or not.
In the past, there have been some great sectionals (well before this year’s switch to league championships). In the past, there have been some great districts (well before this year’s switch to a three-district alignment). And in the past, there have been some great Class AA districts (most notably when Octorara, Oxford, Phoenixville and Pottstown — just to name four — were much smaller and part of the bracket).
Yes, the weight classes have changed quite a few times, even the postseason schedule has been altered along the way.
And there have been good Pioneer Athletic Conference teams, actually great teams — most notably Pottstown, Spring-Ford and former member Great Valley early on, and Upper Perkiomen, Boyertown and Owen J. Roberts of late – that have stepped up and above the rest in their respective February fights, too.
But in the past two weeks, the PAC-10 — collectively, that is — just may have been the best it’s ever been.
Instead of split up and scattered among three different sections, nine of the schools were together as one for the District 1-AAA West Tournament. Pope John Paul II was off on its own for the District 1-AA Tournament.
None disappointed. More important, none looked any less competitive, or driven, than the other.
Forget the final results, forget as difficult as it may be, that Owen J. Roberts, Spring-Ford, Upper Perkiomen, Boyertown and Methacton were first through fifth, respectively, in the final team standings. Forget, as difficult as it may be, that those handful of teams — along with rivals Perkiomen Valley and Pottsgrove — accounted for 18 of the 28 finalists, 9 of the 14 individual titles, and 25 of the 42 qualifiers for this week’s Southeast Regional.
Those numbers are indeed impressive. As are a couple of others, as in 49 of the district qualifiers (nine freshmen, 21 sophomores and 19 juniors) — 18 medalists among that group — were underclassmen.
But no single statistic was as impressive as the PAC-10’s overall body of work from the moment the district grind started Saturday morning until it ended Saturday night.
There were very few blowouts, or lopsided losses — despite what otherwise were thought of as mismatches in the beginning. And after PAC-10 wrestlers took care of business against some very good, underrated opposition from the Central League, they renewed some heated in-house rivalries of their own. There were 36 bouts featuring PAC-10 wrestlers against PAC-10 wrestlers — including five in the finals and four in the consolation finals, the latter of which unfortunately would end the season for Spring-Ford junior Mason Romano and the careers of Spring-Ford senior Sean Hennessey and OJR seniors Peter Fratantoni and Tyler Rogers.
The 126-pound bracket was absolutely loaded, bulging at its collective talent seams. OJR’s Colby Frank got by two PAC-10 opponents, and decisioned Marple-Newtown’s highly regarded Ryan Flynn in the final. Hennessey ousted Pottstown’s Bryant Wise; then Boyertown’s Eddie Kriczky eliminated Methacton’s Al Ciccitto before denying Hennessey a trip to regionals with a 1-0 thriller for third place.
The 152-pound weight class may have best exemplified how competitive, or driven the PAC-10 was over the weekend. No one in their right wrestling mind would’ve envisioned Boyertown freshman Gregg Harvey let alone Upper Perkiomen’s Ray Young in the final. But there they were. Harvey edged once-beaten and top-seeded Nick Giangiulio in one semifinal, and Young pinned PAC-10 runner-up Frankie Krauss in the other. Giangiulio then took out his frustrations by eliminating Central League champion Dylan Glenn and Fratantoni — a legitimate candidate for the MVP at OJR because of his versatility and accountability, or his season-long ability to capably fill some gaping holes in his team’s lineup due to injuries and illness.
At 220 pounds, the PAC-10’s five entries were a combined 6-0 against Central League opponents in the winners bracket (7-2 overall), before Boyertown’s Jordan Wood outlasted Pottsgrove’s Pat Finn one more time, this one ending 6-5 in what may have been the absolute best final of them all Saturday night.
And while most people are quick to point out the glaring weakness of Class AA wrestling in District 1, keep everything in perspective for a moment and consider how rewarding it was Pope John Paul II.
The Golden Panthers, who endured a winless dual-meet season and had little to shout about, had just eight wrestlers on Saturday. Half of them medaled. Three — Conor Staples, Kirk Cherneskie and Josh Bildstein — were golden, and Aaron Cusatis took third to make it a foursome for the trip to the regional at Wilson (West Lawn) this Friday.
For a team that was shut out three times and barely got into double-digits in a few other matches against its PAC-10 rivals, there was still no quit … an admirable trait that, unfortunately, few outside the sport recognize let alone understand.
* * *
Congratulations are in order for The Hill School’s Johnny Cherneskie and Nick Flanigan, who were seventh and eighth, respectively, at 182 and 145 pounds.
Cherneskie (26-6), a post-grad who wrestled for both St. Pius X and Pope John Paul II, is the older brother of Kirk Cherneskie and the son of former Pottstown girls basketball coach John Cherneskie. He lost in the quarterfinals to unbeaten fourth-seed Isaiah Bellamy and in the consolation quarterfinals to eighth-seed Matthew Apuzi. Flanigan (36-12) regrouped after a second-round setback to Sky Walker with three straight wins before again falling to Walker in the seventh-place final.
Hill had one other entry, junior Chad Saunders (37-8), who went 3-2 at 132 pounds. Despite having just three entries, the Blues were 26th overall in the 75-team field.

Long live the wrestling league championships

This column was originally published in the Feb. 19, 2013 edition of The Mercury.
Upper Perkiomen’s Dante Steffenino wins the championships at 120 pounds over Spring-Ford’s Matt Krieble at the Pioneer Athletic Conference Championships over the weekend at Boyertown. (Photo/Tom Kelly III)
There was (actually still is) a lot of debate on District 1’s shift from sectionals to league championships to begin the postseason.
Some argued there was no need to abandon the six-section format — in place since 1974 (or since 1957 if you go all the way back to when sectionals began) — so history was certainly on their side. They even borrowed the old adage about not needing to fix something that wasn’t broken.
Some countered that argument with geography, or the lack thereof — grouping some teams in with others that really weren’t that close to one another. That, they added, may have been one big reason why most if not all the sections were losing money.
But maybe, just maybe, everybody overlooked, as they have so often in the past, the most important aspect of the issue — the wrestlers themselves.
What do they prefer? Or, to be more specific, what is more important to them, a section or league championship?
During last Saturday’s Pioneer Athletic Conference Championships at Boyertown, 15 wrestlers — five sophomores, five juniors and five seniors, all of whom competed in at least one previous sectional tournament — were asked that question. They were asked off the record, asked with the understanding their names would not be revealed.
The final count was 14-1 … a gold medal for winning their weight class in the PAC-10 carried a lot more weight than a gold medal for winning their weight class in a sectional.
Interesting, to say the least.
Student-athletes don’t make the rules, nor should they. But maybe — again, just maybe — it wouldn’t hurt at times to ask and listen to what they do have to say, and perhaps bring their thoughts and opinions to the administrative tables when changes are proposed and debated, before they’re enacted.
Wrestlers are, without a doubt, a rare breed. They lift weights, yet they watch their weight. They run mile after mile to build their endurance, yet feel totally exhausted after just six minutes of wrestling. They loosen up every joint and stretch every imaginable muscle, yet know full well any one of them could dislocate, break or tear the moment they step on that mat.
Because of all that, because of their commitment to a sport that still sadly pales in popularity to other major sports like baseball, basketball and football, a sport that offers little if any rewards other than an opportunity to compete in college, wrestlers deserve what is best for them.
So, after Saturday’s brief chats with 15 of them, seeing more fans in the stands than I’ve seen in the last 20-30 years of sectionals, and having the pleasure of sitting in on one of the most well-run tournaments I’ve seen in the last 20-30 years, I was convinced at least one league championship — with 10 teams all familiar with one another and competing in one place rather than splitting up and going off to one of three different sections — was a good move.
Boyertown High School – with its long list of workers, from ticket-takers and concession stand workers to scorers, bout-sheet runners and go-fers — was a host with the most. And Steve Perlstein, the athletic director at Upper Perkiomen who served as the tournament chairman, didn’t miss a beat keeping everything in order. That combination, along with making a big deal out of recognizing not only individual champions and medalists but a team tournament champion as well, helped make the change from sectionals to at least one league championship a great move.
And putting together a schedule that featured just a few brief breaks and a lot of continuous wrestling — complete with built-in rivalries — was not only entertaining, but a fantastic move.
A move that, hopefully, will remain intact for the future.

Excitement high for inaugural PAC-10 championships

This column was originally published in the Feb. 16, 2013 edition of The Mercury.
BOYERTOWN — For 26 years, Pioneer Athletic Conference wrestlers took turns beating up on one another during the regular season before most of them parted ways for the postseason.
This year, or today to be specific, everyone gets an opportunity to make yet another statement, or gets that coveted chance at redemption — and all in one place, in front of everyone else — when the inaugural PAC-10 Championships get under way this morning (9:30 a.m.) at Boyertown High School.
Unlike years past, when the postseason began and teams headed off into different directions, namely the Section 2, 3 and 4 as well as Class AA tournaments, all 10 will be poised to renew some old (and some new) individual battles that will dictate the top five in each class ... or who exactly will move on to next week’s district showdown.
The new district-wide format was discussed at length and later approved last summer by District 1 officials. Most if not all coaches, even the majority of fans, have since been very supportive of the change that replaces the six sectionals with the Bicentennial, Central, Ches-Mont, Del-Val, PAC-10, and Suburban One American, Continental and National league championships.
“I think it adds a lot of excitement,” District 1 Steering Committee chairman Dennis Kellon said last year when announcing the change.
That it does.
And perhaps nowhere more than in the PAC-10.
Considered, and rightfully so, the most competitive alignment in the district this season, this winter’s PAC-10 regular season was ruled by a very good and very balanced Owen J. Roberts lineup. It would be rather foolish to expect anyone other than OJR to pin down the team title today when all is said and done, too.
But it won’t be anywhere near as easy as all those jaw-dropping numbers the Wildcats produced en route to their second straight unbeaten PAC-10 championship. Today, as Owen J. Roberts head coach Steve DeRafelo said recently, will be an entirely different ballgame. Today, as Boyertown head coach Pete Ventresca said recently, will be a dogfight.
Today will be both ... if not more.
It wasn’t any surprise to see OJR, Upper Perkiomen and Boyertown each get three No. 1 seeds, or for Spring-Ford to get two. And the remaining three were divided up between Methacton, Perkiomen Valley and Pottstown. It also wasn’t any surprise to see OJR get an additional four No. 2 seeds, one more than both Spring-Ford and Boyertown.
Now what would be a surprise, actually a big surprise, is if all those premier seedings hold up. And that’s not to discredit any of those entries on the top and bottom of their respective brackets, either. It’s just that there is two very big quarterfinals and a whole lot of semifinals that could — that’s could — drop a number of those first and second seeds into the consolations.
One quarterfinal to keep an eye on could unfold in the talent-congested 126-pound weight class. Upper Perkiomen’s Dylan Steffenino, a state qualifier a year ago who hasn’t been anywhere near 100 percent this year because of an arm injury, has to deal with upstart freshman Al Ciccitto of Methacton in a pigtail. He needs a win to get Owen J. Roberts’ No. 2 Colby Frank (18-4), and that survivor will likely get Spring-Ford’s No. 3 seed Sean Hennessey (28-3). The upper-half of the bracket is no breeze, either, not with Pottstown’s Bryant Wise (29-2) and Boyertown’s No. 1 seed Eddie Kriczky (29-7).
The other quarterfinal is up at 195. Phoenixville’s Jordan Valenteen (23-5) gets Owen J. Roberts’ Brad Trego (22-13), a returning regional qualifier who has spent most of the last two seasons as a considerably undersized but game 285-pounder. The winner gets Boyertown’s top-seeded Jordan Wertz (28-9), who has been hot, hot, hot the past month. On the opposite side of the bracket is Methacton’s Mike Baccaro (27-4) and Spring-Ford’s Mason Romano (24-7).
It won’t get any easier at 132, either, even with Spring-Ford’s Adam Dombrosky opting to move up to 138. Barring any upsets, the semifinals should be physical scraps between Upper Perkiomen’s Wolfgang McStravick (37-5) and Pottsgrove’s Nico Demetrio (19-7), and Methacton’s Joe Staley (28-3) and OJR’s Dominick Petrucelli (26-10), who was as impressive as any of the Wildcats during last week’s PIAA team duals.
At 152, Perkiomen Valley’s top-seeded Nick Giangiulio (26-1) should get quite a semifinal test from Boyertown freshman Gregg Harvey (22-10). And if Owen J. Roberts’ Kyle Shronk (24-4) can stay healthy, a Giangiulio-Shronk final may be one of the most watched of the entire tournament.
And not to overlook anyone at 220, but Part One of what could very well be a District 1 trilogy — or consecutive league, district and regional final — will feature freshman phenom Jordan Wood (34-1) of Boyertown against super soph Pat Finn (21-2) of Pottsgrove.
The top seeds are Upper Perkiomen’s Dustin Steffenino at 106; OJR’s Derek Gulotta at 113; Upper Perkiomen’s Dante Steffenino at 120; Kriczky at 126; McStravick at 132; Dombrosky at 138; OJR’s Adam Moser at 145; Giangiulio at 152; Pottstown’s Darien Hain at 160; Spring-Ford’s Tyler McGuigan at 170; OJR’s Gordon Bolig at 182; Wertz at 195; Wood at 220; and Methacton’s Tracey Green at 285. ... Pottstown, which set a single-season school record with 22 wins this winter, also has a second seed in Jasheel Brown (145) and five third seeds — Logan Pennypacker (106); Robbie McCoy (113), Patrick Bohn (138), Sebastian Shiffler (152), and Jeff Slody (220). ... Pope John Paul II also has a second seed in Kirk Cherneskie at 182.
Pope John Paul II is the only Class AA school in the PAC-10, which means if any of the Golden Panthers’ entries place fifth or better they will be replaced at next week’s AAA district tournament by the next highest-placing wrestler in that weight class. ... The PAC-10’s five qualifiers and the Central League’s top six will line up for next week’s District 1-AAA West Tournament at Spring-Ford, where only the top three finishers in each weight class advance to the Southeast Regional at Pottstown.

Top 8 is great for OJR wrestling

This column was originally published in the Feb. 12, 2013 edition of The Mercury.
Owen J. Roberts’ Kyle Shronk, left, showed some serious grit through the PIAA team duals
tournament, wrestling through a shoulder injury to help the Wildcats
become one of the top eight teams in the state. (File photo by Tom Kelly III)
Central Dauphin, Canon-McMillan, Franklin Regional, Easton and, take your pick, either McDowell, Parkland, Owen J. Roberts or Delaware Valley.
Wherever your allegiance may lie, whatever wrestling intelligence you may be blessed to have, there’s absolutely no debating they’re the top eight teams in Pennsylvania this year.
Hats off to each and every one of them.
And that includes Owen J. Roberts.
No one in the Pioneer Athletic Conference except for Upper Perkiomen’s run in the early 2000s (and, please, no bickering about recruiting this or illegal that), and no one in District 1 except for Council Rock South’s run after that, has been as competitive or entertaining from the Southeast Region as Owen J. Roberts has been the past two seasons.
Last year, the Wildcats fell short of a medal, going 2-2. This year, without three leaders (Andrew Kinney, Mike Lenge and James Warta) who happened to be pretty darn good on the mats, too, or good enough for 100-plus combined wins in their senior season, the Wildcats fell short of a medal again, going 2-2.
But as unhappy and unfulfilled as the Wildcats may have been this time around, and as disappointed for them as head coach Steve DeRafelo and his staff were, there was also a sense of pride… in their performance against not only some of the best teams in Pennsylvania but arguably in the entire nation. And, most important, there was that pride in their resiliency, bouncing back from that first loss of the season — a one-point heartbreaker to Franklin Regional on Friday; and, in the end, the never-give-up stance they took throughout the second one — an uphill, five-point setback to Parkland on Saturday.
Unfortunately, that intestinal fortitude — or guts, as we’d prefer to call it — doesn’t show up in the scorebook or on the scoreboard. If they did, most if not all of the 28 matches contested from Thursday through Saturday would’ve been draws. No one gets to the Giant Center in the second week of February without that true grit.
And no one had more of it for OJR than Kyle Shronk, wrestling with a shoulder that pops more than a freshly opened Coca-Cola; Gordon Bolig, taking on a returning state qualifier instead of an opponent he likely would’ve easily pinned; and Dominick Petrucelli, showing some mighty mettle the entire time he was on the mat.
The difference in the scorebook and on the scoreboard in the Pennsylvania state team duals is talent — from 106 on up through 285 pounds — with match-ups and a wee bit of luck mixed in. Owen J. Roberts didn’t get many of the matchups it needed, and little if any luck. And the Wildcats didn’t quite match up with their opponents’ talent, though one-point and five-point losses aren’t all that convincing, or enough to suggest the final results would be the same from one day to the next.
The bottom line was that this year’s state team duals field out in Hershey was absolutely packed, maybe as strong as any in recent memory.
Upper Perkiomen, which even head coach Tom Hontz felt was a .500 team at best back around Christmas, represented itself, the PAC-10 and District 1 well by reaching the quarterfinals and finishing 2-2 overall.
Owen J. Roberts did the same, and also proved — without question — it was among the top eight teams in Pennsylvania.
Not bad.
Not bad at all.
* * *
Last week’s combined four wins and five losses in the PIAA-Class AAA Team Duals by Owen J. Roberts, Upper Perkiomen and Boyertown brought the PAC-10’s overall record in the state team duals to 21-28 — which broken down shows a 21-22 mark in AAA and 0-6 mark in AA. … Upper Perkiomen, with the most appearances, owns the most wins (13) as well as the most losses (8).

District wrestling duals drama

This column was originally published in the Feb. 5, 2013 edition of The Mercury.
FORT WASHINGTON — Unless you’re a fan of wrestling, or at least understand a little bit about the sport, you wouldn’t have been able to appreciate just how good last weekend’s District 1-Class AAA Team Duals were.
Sadly, a whole lot of fans (including many of the high-and-mighty, nameless website critics) weren’t around. The support simply wasn’t there … much like it hasn’t been nearly everywhere this season.
Maybe it was because of the wonderful winter weather we were enjoying, perhaps it was too long of a drive to Upper Dublin High School. Or maybe, just maybe, getting live updates and recaps on Twitter and Facebook (or from someone texting his or her army of friends) was good enough.
But it really wasn’t.
Unfortunately, those who opted not to be there missed what is so great about the sport … the unpredictability, and the excitement as well as drama it so often creates. You get that live, not electronically. And Memorex sure as heck can’t duplicate it, either.
The Pioneer Athletic Conference, unquestionably at its collective best in its 27-year history of wrestling, accounted for a quarter of the original 24 teams in the tournament and half of the eight teams who took center stage Friday night. Three were still around for the curtain call Saturday afternoon.
That alone was impressive.
And all three sure had a lot to do with most of that unpredictability.
Starting with the quarterfinals — Boyertown avenged a 36-33 loss to Upper Perkiomen earlier in the season with a 40-24 romp, and Spring-Ford lost on criteria to Council Rock South.
Next up, the consolations — Upper Perkiomen barely got by Downingtown West (38-30, compared to an earlier-in-the-season 38-28 win), then put a no-doubt-about-it hurtin’ on Council Rock South (42-21). Interesting, considering Upper Perkiomen couldn’t match up earlier this season against Spring-Ford but sure did against the team that beat Spring-Ford just 24 hours earlier. And speaking of Spring-Ford, the Rams regrouped to humble Pennsbury, but then lost by a jaw-dropping 35 points to Boyertown, the same team they beat by four points three days earlier.
Then the consolation final. Yet another Boyertown-Upper Perkiomen go-round.
Remember now, Upper Perkiomen won by three back in early January, and Boyertown won by 16 on Friday night. The third time was indeed the charm – for the fans, that is — as the Bears came up with one big individual upset and held on for a 35-31 win.
That sure was enough excitement and drama for a couple of days.
But Owen J. Roberts, which provided little of either in Friday night romps over Downingtown West and Boyertown, finally managed to contribute a lot of both in Saturday afternoon’s championship final with its 32-24 thriller over Downingtown East.
Yes, as they say, wrestling is all about match-ups. How often have we heard that if Team A beats Team B, and Team B beats Team C, it doesn’t necessarily mean Team A beats Team C.
But last weekend’s district team duals was also about countless wrestlers stepping up to countless challenges, countering the often boring predictability (or defying the odds), creating a lot of excitement, and providing a whole heck of a lot of suspense, or drama.
And for those in the stands, regardless of who they were hooting and hollering for, were fortunate to witness it all.
Quote of the Week came from Boyertown head coach Pete Ventresca, whose Bears wrestled all four of their weekend matches against rivals Owen J. Roberts, Spring-Ford and Upper Perkiomen (twice): “I don’t want to see anyone from the PAC-10 the rest of the season,” Ventresca said before breaking into a laugh. … Not so quick, though, because the Bears have Pope John Paul II this Wednesday, then get together with everyone for one day — Saturday, Feb. 16 – for the inaugural PAC-10 Championships (in the Boyertown gym, no less).
Owen J. Roberts, which extended its PAC-10 winning streak to 34 in a row with the win over Pottstown last Wednesday, will attempt to make it 35 straight and pin down its third consecutive unbeaten title run this Wednesday at home against Phoenixville. … The two-time district duals champions — who also own a 39-match winning streak against District 1 opponents — head out to Hershey on Thursday for the Class AAA state duals. The unbeaten Wildcats (17-0) open against District 2 champion Delaware Valley (16-2) at 6 p.m. in the Giant Center.

Golden memories for Pottstown's wrestling program

This column was originally published in the Jan. 28, 2013 edition of The Mercury.
Many former Trojans came together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Pottstown wrestling program last week in conjunction with the current team's match against Pope John Paul II. Members of the group came from as far as Florida and Colorado for the celebration. (Photo by John Strickler/The Mercury)
POTTSTOWN — Roger Bechtel had no idea who Lee Bohner was, no concept whatsoever of what wrestling was all about, when he started his sophomore year at Pottstown High School in 1963. But he sure got to know the Trojans’ first coach in a hurry, and a lot about wrestling shortly thereafter.
“It was (Bohner’s) first year here, and he was going around the hallways and classes recruiting kids he felt could physically handle (wrestling),” Bechtel recalled.
Bechtel, 120 pounds or so soaking wet at the time, thought he’d give it a try.
“The prerequisite for getting a practice uniform was climbing the rope, all the way to the top, with your hands only,” he said. “That wasn’t so easy for some guys.
“The toughest part was trying to get kids out to wrestle. We may have had 18 kids that first day, and not every one of them hung around long. So we had to get others involved.”
Others did get involved, of course, and when Pottstown celebrated the 50th anniversary of its wrestling program last week prior to the Trojans’ match with visiting Pope John Paul II, more than 150 of those “kids” — most a little older and wee bit heavier now — were on hand to share in the festivities.
For Bechtel, better known as “Bucky” in his day, it was a special evening. Involved was his son, Brad, wrestled before graduating in 1988 — and is currently in his first season as Pottstown head coach; his daughter, Tracey, one of the Trojans’ cheerleaders before graduating in 1991; and his grandson, Zane, wrestled before graduating in 2011.
Three generations … and a lot of memories.
“I still remember (Bohner) telling us he really wanted to win a match that first year,” Bechtel said. “Well, we beat Pottsgrove and lost by just two points to Phoenixville. That kind of put us on the map.
“A lot more kids got interested in wrestling. Our second year we had close to 60 kids come out for the team.”
Bohner, who lives in Florida and was unable to attend due to a recent surgery, had no trouble getting wrestlers into his practice room after that first season. One big reason why was winning. In their second year on the mats, the Trojans went 9-4 and, remarkably, didn’t endure another losing season until going 6-7-1 in 1974-75, when Bohner stepped down and handed the program to Jim Edwards.
The success was a testament to Bohner’s commitment to the sport and those who competed in it. A 1951 graduate of Sunbury High School and 1955 graduate of West Chester, where he was the 130-pound Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference champion as a senior, Bohner started the wrestling program at Warrior Run High School. In six seasons, he was 40-33-1. Even though he admitted the move from Warrior Run to Pottstown was like night and day, he still managed to guide the Trojans to all five of their Ches-Mont League championships and a very respectable 104-46-4 overall mark in those 12 seasons.
“Coach Bohner was a genius,” Alray Johnson — a former standout at Pottstown and West Chester — once told me while driving Downingtown to unprecedented success throughout the 80s and early 90s.
Edwards did rather well, too, going 33-11 over the ensuing three seasons.
In 1978, Jim Tsakonas — one of Johnson’s former teammates who learned a thing or two from Bohner and then assistant Ron Davidheiser, who was in attendance last week — took over the program.
“We learned to wrestle,” said Tsakonas, who got a head start of some of his rivals by wrestling at the once-a-week program at the Pottstown YMCA and also at The Hill School, when the legendary Frank Bissell — who died last year — opened the gym on Sundays for youngsters around the community.
Tsakonas, a member of the 1967 and 1968 Ches-Mont championship teams — and along with Johnson and Dave Saylor the Trojans’ first three sectional champions — guided Pottstown for 24 seasons. He was the head coach when Pottstown pinned down its 200th, 300th and 400th wins; the head coach when Pottstown won two PAC-10 titles; and the head coach when the 1988-89 team put together a perfect season that included section, district and regional titles and a spotless 20-0 record.
Tsakonas was also a big fan in the stands watching two of his former wrestlers —– Tom Medvetz (2002-06) and Eric Dusko (2006-10) — coach, and was present last year when Jamie Gill coached the Trojans to their coveted 500th win. He was also front and center last week with so many other former wrestlers, including older brother Pete Tsakonas, to take part in the golden anniversary celebration.
“The big change (at Pottstown) was when we started a junior high program and our youth program,” said Tsakonas, who was 302-147-5 before calling it a career and being inducted into the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame. “Kids today are wrestling year around, which is something we didn’t do back in our day.
“Now you have freshmen coming into your program who have been wrestling eight years already. A lot of them are dedicating themselves to wrestling, and that was unheard of in our day.”
Tsakonas certainly had a group of dedicated wrestlers in 1988-89.
“A lot of those kids came up through (former Montgomery County District Attorney) Mike Marino’s youth club,” he explained. “When they got here they were battle-ready. It didn’t matter who we were wrestling, our kids were tough. They didn’t back down from anybody. They proved that, because it’s so hard to go undefeated and then win the section, district and regional (team titles). It was a great group.”
Many of that group were on hand last week, among them Medvetz — as well as his father Mike, who videotaped hundreds of matches; section champion Chris Ruyak; and two-time regional champion and state runner-up Brian Campbell (with mom and dad, too).
The entire anniversary gang was great, too. Among the “youngsters” were Scott Detar, Aram Ecker, Ben Eckroth, Bill Gehret, Mike Bakay, Paul Maloney and Ed Rakowski. David Binder (1979) came up from Florida. Jerry Staverosky, accompanied by brother Tom, was in from Colorado. State qualifiers Percy Norman (1981), Corey Goff (1982) and Charles Oister (1995) were there, as were some of the nowhere-near-old group like Lou Mazzerle, Anthony Smith and Anthony Wiggins.
And right smack in the middle of everyone was the often underappreciated John Armato … who has been around Pottstown wrestling longer than anyone. Coming aboard as an assistant in 1969, Armato — the school’s former athletic director and organizer behind last week’s event — is still at it as an assistant under Brad Bechtel.
Word is he still can roll around with the best of them in the practice room, too. But one person, and arguably the most successful wrestler in the history of the Pottstown program, was on hand to acknowledge what Armato has provided the program and, most important, the student-athletes who have been part of it.
“I was aware of Mr. Armato because of my dad (Aram) and uncle (Amir) wrestling for him,” said 2008 graduate Seth Ecker, a three-time state medalist and two-time Division III national champion at Ithaca College who drove up from Delaware. “As a wrestling coach, pedigree speaks for itself. But the intangible is what is often overlooked. In order to excel it is imperative that a coach in any sport be up to date and know the modern techniques of the sport.
“Mr. Armato adapted on a continual basis from wrestling on the straw (and burlap-like) mats to the sport we have today. He has an understanding of the sport that many forget or even ever realize. He understands the key to be a successful wrestler, win or lose, is the hard work, dedication, commitment, passion and ability to be just plain old tough. He’s been able to instill all of those things in us so easily because he’s a shining example of each one.”
Armato’s dedication and commitment was so evident during last week’s festivities. His passion was so evident when asking for a moment of silence for the late Jeff Green and Job Price, two of Pottstown’s great heavyweights and veterans who have passed, and for the late Bill Rogers, a longtime football coach who years ago also assisted with the wrestling program.
And then you could see that toughness in Armato and everyone else on hand for the anniversary, when they took a seat and watched Pottstown defeat Pope John Paul II … to tie that 1988-89 team’s single-season record of 20 wins (which the Trojans then broke the following evening in the district team duals tournament).
“What a great night,” Tsakonas said.
Indeed it was.

Bolig's career-long point to improve pays off

This column was originally published in the Jan. 21, 2013 edition of The Mercury.

BUCKTOWN — It didn’t take long for Gordon Bolig to learn he wasn’t quite as good as he thought he was.
On a wrestling mat, that is.
“I came in here a little cocky as a freshman,” the now Owen J. Roberts senior admitted last week. “But I wasn’t that strong, I wasn’t that physical.”
Bolig actually won his debut that season. He also lost his last two at sectionals, so he wasn’t around long for the postseason.
But the quick exit motivated him and, instead of moping or sulking over the fact he wasn’t as good as he thought he was, Bolig chose a work regimen to help him become as good as he always wanted to be.
That meant getting into the weight room, getting into a lot of tournaments, getting a little more aggressive … or, dare he say it, getting a little nastier when he stepped on the mat.
The commitment paid off.
Last week, during the Wildcats’ 38-18 win over rival Spring-Ford in a match most feel decided the Pioneer Athletic Conference championship (despite this Saturday’s date with Upper Perkiomen), the 182-pound Bolig moved up a bracket to 195 for the first and only time this winter and put on a clinic … a 16-1 technical fall.
It was his 100th career win.
Not too bad for someone who had that less than memorable freshman season.
“I just started working harder in the offseason after my freshman year,” he explained. “It was a combination of a lot of things. I hit the weight room, wrestled a lot of freestyle.
“And wrestling everyday with (OJR assistant) Aaron Brown… I wasn’t that physical, but you go with (Brown) all the time and you learn that you have to be able to go out and be aggressive, have to be on the offensive.”
Wildcats head coach Steve DeRafelo saw the transition, the almost step-by-step improvement as Bolig grew from an average 145-pound freshman to a now very good 182-pound senior.
“The thing about him is that every year he worked on whatever areas of wrestling he had to,” DeRafelo said. “As a freshman, he wasn’t that good in all three positions. Between his freshman and sophomore years he got better on his feet, and from his sophomore year to his junior year he got better on bottom to the point no one could hold him down long.
“Now, as a senior, he’s tough on top. He works so hard on things he may not be too good at. He’s certainly one of the most improved wrestlers I’ve ever coached.”
And that says a lot.
“It does because he isn’t a natural,” DeRafelo added. “He’s put in a lot of work to get where he is right now.”
Bolig is currently among the district’s top 182-pounders, determined to return to the state tournament where he went 1-2 and came home empty-handed a year ago. He’s also currently one of only 10 wrestlers to reach 100-win mark at OJR.
“After my freshman year, getting just 14 wins, I didn’t know if I could,” Bolig said. “But getting (100) was one of my big goals, and after getting (32) as a sophomore and another (34) as a junior I felt I had a chance. I just know it feels good getting it.”
Even better knowing he worked for it … and, at last, earned it.
Bolig, who added another five to his total over the weekend at the Escape the Rock Tournament — where he finished fourth — moved past Jonathan Dempsey and Craig Nolan on the OJR chart. He’ll likely pass Connor McCormick (108) and Scott Syrek (112) in the next couple of weeks. … Both OJR teammate Adam Moser (97) and Spring-Ford’s Sean Hennessey (97) could reach the coveted mark by the end of this week. … Upper Perkiomen’s Wolfgang McStravick is currently the active leader with 132 career wins, which place him in a tie for 25th on The Mercury area’s all-time chart.
Two gentlemen separated by two generations certainly warrant mention this week throughout District 1, if not around the state. Last weekend, North Penn joined a short list of schools to pin down its 500th win. The mastermind behind the Knights’ success was Ed Klavon — father of former Perkiomen School head coach Tim Klavon — who started the program and, in 34 years, oversaw 318 of those wins. The now 81-year-old Klavon, recovering from an illness and stay in the hospital, still gets out to his fair share of matches, too. … Also last weekend at the conclusion of the Spartan Clash at Springfield-Montco, Phil-Mont Christian junior Richie Cerebe — one of the district’s better 152-pounders — was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler. Soon after receiving the award (and reportedly without drawing any attention to himself), he presented it to Delco Christian’s Yangzi Jiang, a foreign-exchange student in his first year of wrestling. Jiang competes with just one leg.

Local football legend Bill Rogers remembered

Former Pottstown and St. Pius X football coach Bill Rogers,
who died of cancer in January.

NORTH COVENTRY — When Bill Rogers was diagnosed with cancer in early December, doctors told him he had just two weeks to two months to live. Later that afternoon, his wife asked him if he had any regrets.
“To be a dad, a grand-dad, a coach … I did everything I wanted to do, so no regrets,” he told his wife Norma Jean.
Early Thursday morning, exactly 40 days later, Rogers died.
But not before doing more than most men could ever dream of doing; not before impacting the lives of countless others.
Rogers was the dad of two daughters and three sons who loved him; the grand-dad of 12 grandchildren who adored him; and the coach who, throughout a career that spanned an astonishing 55 years, taught hundreds and hundreds of young student-athletes not only how to play football but to embrace the game and the lessons it provided … and every one of them revered him.
“He was a special man, just a special, special man,” said Doug Rogers, his youngest son.
“Our dad just loved doing what he did,” added Dean Rogers, the second-oldest son. “There aren’t too many people who find out what they truly love doing at the age of 14 and get to do it the rest of their life.”
Bill Rogers did.
He was 14 and in eighth grade when the late Robert McNelly — head coach at the former Royersford High School — told him to come out for football. There was no junior high program, so Rogers spent his afternoons at the Eagles’ practices in full gear. But all he could do was stand around, watch, and learn.
And did he ever learn well.
Before he graduated, he became a three-year starting lineman who helped Royersford to an undefeated season in 1951 and back-to-back Perkiomen-Schuylkill Valley League championships. He went on to become a standout at Ursinus College.
“When I got out of Ursinus I was married with a baby girl, and I didn’t have a job,” Rogers recalled during an interview just over four years ago. “There was a guy from Ursinus down (at Fairfax County High School) in Virginia who told me they needed an assistant to coach the linemen.” 
That was all Rogers needed to hear. He packed up the car and, with Norma Jean and daughter Allison accompanying him, headed south.
He would spend four years at Fairfax County before accepting a teaching and coaching position at Daniel Boone High School. Two years later, he was teaching and coaching at Pottstown, then took over the Trojans’ program in 1972. But following a winless season in 1977, he was fired.
“When you lose all your games it’s like dying every week,” Rogers said. “I was discouraged, mentally down. When I was fired it nearly destroyed me.”
But he didn’t turn his back on the game, or the kids who played it. He returned to the sidelines at St. Pius X as an assistant to Jim Mich. When the legendary Mich resigned, Rogers stepped in as the Lions’ head coach from 1985 through 1994.
He guided St. Pius from the Ches-Mont League into the Pioneer Athletic Conference in 1986, then to the PIAA-Class AA Eastern Final in 1988, when the Lions lost a 20-10 thriller to eventual state champion Camp Hill up at Governor Mifflin High School.
Six years later, he was fired.
“In his long career Bill had some rough sledding at times, and it was extremely tough on him,” Mich said. “But he had a lot of pride in what he did.
“As coaches we tell kids when they get knocked down they have to get back up again. That’s what Bill did. Nothing ever destroyed his confidence or his willingness to work with the kids. That says a lot about the person he was.”
Despite the disheartening news at St. Pius, Rogers still could not walk away from the game. He would serve as an assistant at Valley Forge Military Academy, Daniel Boone and Exeter, where he met then Eagles assistant coach Brett Myers. And when Myers took over the Pottstown program in 2007, he asked Rogers to team up with him.
“Coach Rogers devoted his life to kids up to and through his last year of life,” Myers said Friday. “I can’t imagine a more noble thing to do than working your entire life, even after you retire, for the betterment of others.
“He always pushed us to remember how much kids needed sports, especially a game like football, where they can be challenged.”
“Bill was so good with kids,” added Mich, whose son Jim Jr. — now a teacher and assistant coach at Spring-Ford — played for Rogers at St. Pius X. “As a parent, you had to feel good about that, about how he was with kids. He taught kids a lot more than just football. He taught them a lot about life.”
So much so another one of his former players, Tony Palladino — now the athletic director at Phoenixville High School — was hoping his sons would have had the opportunity to play for Rogers.
“It may seem cliché, but (Rogers) always had the kids’ best interest first,” Palladino said. “Even if he was yelling, going crazy, you knew he cared. Through the stories he’d tell you at practice, through providing things for the team the school didn’t, he was so instrumental in helping boys become young men. He was a class act.
“Now as an athletic director and father, perhaps the biggest compliment I could ever give him is hoping my kids can someday play for a coach just like him. He was one of a kind.”
“Bill could give you that impression he was a little standoffish, a little bullheaded,” Mich added. “But when you got to know him you’d swear by him, as a coach and as a person.
“If he worked for you, he was loyal to you to the umpteenth degree. If he was the head coach and you worked for him, he’d live and die with you. And the most important thing to him was all those kids.”
So important that Rogers made personalized wooden plaques for every senior who played for him at Pottstown and St. Pius. He started the project during the summer leading up to every season, and during the teams’ year-end banquets presented them — along with an unscripted and often heartwarming if not hilarious story about each senior.
“I was always told what determines a great man is what he does when no one is watching,” Myers said. “Coach Rogers was a great man.”
The plaques were just one the many things Rogers did that few were aware of. He planned family summer vacations around watering the football field at St. Pius. He planted new flowers and tidied up around the Jared Bentley Memorial Bench at Pottstown’s football field the last six years. And two years ago, he talked Upper Perkiomen’s junior high coaching staff and team into allowing one of his players, Marvin Pearson — a seventh-grader who is legally blind and deaf — to run for a touchdown (with the help of a teammate) in the waning moments of their last game of the season.
“You should’ve seen that,” he said a couple of weeks later prior to a high school game. “My goodness, the kids were so excited for that young man.”
“Bill just loved the kids, and the kids loved him,” Mich said.
No one loved Bill Rogers more than his own kids.
That was evident when they all sat down, along with all the grandchildren, in the family room Friday afternoon to talk about the man who was much, much more than just a coach.
Allison wasn’t involved in sports, but acknowledged how dad was always there for her school plays and other activities. Oldest son Drew remembered his passion for running as a youngster, and waking up his dad at six in the morning for a five-mile jog around the neighborhood. Dean, who played football at Owen J. Roberts — and against his father on more than one occasion — recalled those joyful moments (after a win) as well as the quiet times (after a loss) when dad returned from a game.
And all of them spoke about their father’s unwavering love for their youngest sister Audrey, who was born with Downs Syndrome.
“We were all so young and didn’t really understand Downs Syndrome,” Drew remembered. “But our dad talked to us about her, explained a few things, and when mom and dad brought Audrey home we all went out and ran up and down the street yelling, ‘We have a sister like no one else does.’ We were proud of her. We’ve never felt she was any different than the rest of us.”
But she was.
Audrey and her mother were among the first to arrive at Rogers’ football games, wherever they were. They sat together, right smack on the 50-yard line. And while coaches rarely hear all the hooting and hollering from the stands, Rogers somehow always managed to hear his No. 1 fan’s cheers. And if there was one thing he always looked forward to it was that post-game hug — win or lose — from his youngest daughter before he retreated to the locker room.
“Audrey was the only one who could talk to our dad after a loss,” Dean said. “It was hush, hush here in the house when that happened. My dad would sit out there on the step, but there was Audrey sitting next to him and talking to him.”
“Dad may have had that rough exterior, but he was mushy, mushy inside,” Doug added.
No one may have had more insight into just how big a heart their father had than Doug — the youngest child — who was adopted by the Rogers when he was 1-year-old and, like Dean, played against his father when he lined up for Owen J. Roberts.
Growing up, Doug saw how Allison, Drew and Dean never once looked at or treated Audrey as the sister who happened to have Downs Syndrome, how they never once looked at or treated him as the brother who happened to be an Afro-American.
It was because of dad and, of course, mom.
It was because of that love for family, Bill Rogers fought the inevitable for over a month. He wanted to spend one more Christmas with his wife of 55 years, their five children and 12 grandchildren.
He did, too.
“We’ve all lost a great, great man,” Myers said. “He will be missed.”