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.

Monday, March 4, 2013

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.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home