Were District 1's 22 state medals a success or an illusion?
by Don Seeley, Pottstown Mercury Sports Editor
Posted on March 10, 2009
Thanks to computers, and the multitude of programs the creative minds have written or created for them, we're capable of breaking down just about anything any way we choose ... including wrestlers, their teams, the tournaments they compete in, even entire seasons.
Thanks to Brian Burychka and Mike Leister, the geniuses behind the local end of the NHSCA Web site, we've been able to grasp just how good, bad or indifferent things have been in the area and throughout District 1 (as well as the state, in some instances) for a number of years now. And combine what they've offered with years and years of old-fashioned research - that's a lot of trips to libraries, a lot of reading and a lot of written notes - and we've been able to grasp just how good, bad or indifferent things have been in the area and throughout District 1 since wrestling became a sanctioned scholastic sport 75 years ago.
All the numbers can be a bit misleading, too.
Depending on what figures you look at, or what figures you choose to ignore, they can and will dictate the criticism, albeit it a good or bad analysis.
Which is why some of the most avid fans from the Philadelphia region were quick to hail last weekend's showing at the PIAA Championships as another good year for District 1.
But was it?
If you count up the medals - all 22 of them - well, that's not bad at all. Only in 2005, when the final count was 28, and the following year, when the total was 24, has the district fared better. And realizing there were only 13 medalists last year, it shows the district did pretty well overall in recovering from the 2008 fiasco in Hershey.
Looking inside those numbers provides a bit of a different evaluation, though.
For one, 22 medalists was the third-best total behind District 7 (25) and District 3 (24), both of which had six less qualifiers when wrestling began last Thursday afternoon, and just ahead of District 11 (18), which had 16 less qualifiers. Also, of the 22 medalists, there were no state champions and just two runners-up, and less than half - nine, to be exact - finished in the top half of their respective weight classes. As a matter of fact, more than half of them - 12, to be exact - finished sixth, seventh or eighth.
How one defines success at the state tournament - as a district overall - is one question that seems to get a variety of answers.
Just two finalists and no champions isn't good, naturally. Not when you realize District 7 had 11 finalists and seven champions, District 3 had six finalists and three champions, and District 11 had three finalists and one champion. And 22 medalists, good when recognizing they represent the district's third-highest total ever, lose a little value when realizing less than a third - just six - were second or third in their weight classes.
But the one glaring statistic that seems to jump out at anyone willing to add up the numbers (or check the NHSCA Web site), is the overall won-loss record at states. And while it's a number few use to evaluate or define success at the state tournament, it's a number that shows just how competitive a district is against the rest of the state.
District 1's 48 state qualifiers last week were a combined 84-99, a winning percentage of .459 - the worst of nine other districts represented in the AAA bracket (not including District 12's eight qualifiers who were 4-17). Of those 48 qualifiers, 10 went two-and-out, failing to win a match. Sixteen others won one match before being eliminated. Add those together, and you get more than half of the qualifiers, 26 in all, with a combined 16-52 mark.
District 1 wrestlers have been over the .500 mark just three times in 35 state tournaments, or since the PIAA split the championship into the current set-up of two enrollment classifications way back in 1974. The district's best year, without a doubt, was 2005, with the record five AAA state champions, record 28 medalists and .507 overall winning percentage (104-101) from its 55 qualifiers. The only other two years the district finished above .500 was back in 1977 and 1978, when just 36 qualifiers in the win-or-be-gone, single-elimination format went a combined 35-35 (.500) and 39-38 (.506), respectively.
So, after digesting all those numbers, from past and present, how did District 1 do last weekend?
Not bad. Not bad at all.
District 1 has made significant strides in going toe-to-toe with the rest of the state since those single-digit and 10, 11, and 12 state-medalist counts back in the 1980s and early 1990s. Schedules have been beefed up, and the coaching staffs have gotten considerably better, two particulars most critics felt kept District 1 pinned down in mediocrity for so long. And, most important, the dedication - or commitment - to the sport by the wrestlers themselves, has improved dramatically.
So, yes, even though District 1 has more steps to climb to get completely out of the shadows of other districts and to firmly establish itself as the best in all of Pennsylvania, it's at least making the effort, at least heading in that direction.
District 1's top-seeds, or Southeast Regional champions, went 37-24 with 10 medals; regional runners-up went 18-27 with three medals; third-place qualifiers went 14-23 with five medals; and the overlooked fourth-place entries out of the region went 15-25 with four medals.
CHARTING THE PROGRESS
Owen J. Roberts' Nick Fuschino, who was fifth at 152 pounds, closed with 130 career wins and in third place at OJR behind only Robert Hoffman (131) and Aaron Brown (134). ... Boyertown's Alex Pellicciotti, seventh at 130, broke his school's single-season record for wins - 47, set in 2006 by Fred Rodgers and equaled the following year by Jesse DeWan. He will begin next season with 125 career wins, tied for fourth (with Jamie Soupik) on the school's leaderboard. Barring injuries, he'll likely pass Derick Schoenly (130), Tom Kniezewski (133), and DeWan (143) and into the top spot on the chart. Also, another 40-plus victories will put him in the Top Five on the area's all-time career win chart. Teammate Tim Feroe (117) closed in a tie for 10th, while Matt Malfaro (108) has another year to move up from No. 16 at Boyertown. ... Upper Perkiomen's Jared Bennett, the area's other senior state qualifier, closed his career with 121 wins.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
It's hard not to hail the Rappos as the First Family of Council Rock South wrestling. Three brothers - Rick (2004), Mike (2005-06), and Mark (2008) - combined for four state titles. Matt, a sophomore, went 1-2 at 125 pounds during last week's PIAA Championships and returns next season. So does youngest brother Billy, whose freshman season ended last month during sectionals.
While Matt was wrestling Saturday in Hershey, both Rick and Mike were doing the same on the college mats ... and qualifying for the NCAA Championships. Rick, a senior at Penn, was third at 141 pounds in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships. Mike, sophomore at North Carolina, was third at 133 pounds in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships. Mike will be accompanied to nationals by head coach C.D. Mock, a state champion at Council Rock High School and later an NCAA champion himself for the Tar Heels.
For those who may still not be convinced 145 was the toughest bracket of the AAA tournament, catch this: Crestwood's Jake O'Hara (36-1), Central Mountain's Dylan Alton (45-0), Cumberland Valley's Joey Napoli (44-0), and Butler's Cole Baxter (44-0) went into Saturday morning with a combined 169-1 record, and two of them (Alton and Napoli) were defending state champions. ... Alton, who dumped Napoli for the title, goes for the hat trick as a senior next year. Baxter has two more seasons on his wrestling calendar.
Derry freshman Jimmy Gulibon won't by overlooked by anyone next year, either. The relative unknown swept the gold medal at 103 and finished the season without surrendering a takedown ... not one. He was 39-1, his lone setback coming by disqualification when his knee struck a rival's head, and the opponent was unable to continue.
Penn-Trafford's Shane Young became Pennsylvania's 34th three-time state champion ... and got booed after his ho-hum 5-3 overtime win in the 119-pound final.
Central Dauphin's Tony Dallago finished eighth, fifth, and second in three previous appearances in the PIAA Championships. He finally got the elusive gold medal by pinning Council Rock North's Jamie Callender in the 189-pound final on Saturday - his 18th birthday. Dallago finished with a 171-28 career mark.
Blue Mountain's Josh Kindig won the 135-pound title, extending District 11's streak of at least one state champion to 43 consecutive years. But for the first time since the PIAA split the competition into two enrollment brackets back in 1974, no team from the Lehigh Valley - that includes Easton, Nazareth, and Northampton - pinned down a gold medal. The Big Three didn't exactly disappear, though, because Easton had four medalists, Nazareth had two, and Northampton had six.
Octorara's Josh Smith finished second at 171 pounds to join Pottstown's Joey Allen (1990-92) and Octorara's Josh Smith (1999-2001) as District 1's only three-time state medalists I nthe Class AA bracket. ... The Berks Conference produced a record three state champions for the first time in the history of the PIAA Championships. Schuylkill Valley's Wyomissing teammates Arty Walsh (112) and Nick Hodgkins (130) and Schuylkill Valley's Colin Shober (135) were all golden in Class AA.
WILL BE MISSED
Earlier this month, the area lost one of its wrestling pioneers with the passing of Dick Hoover, who was very instrumental in helping start Spring-Ford's program. Hoover spent the early part of his career guiding the junior high school teams throughout the 60s, then moved up to assist Mike Fabel in the early 70s and was on the staff when the Rams won their first wrestling title - the 1973 Ches-Mont League championship. Hoover returned to coach the junior high school teams and played a major role in organizing the district's youth wrestling program before retiring as a coach as well as a teacher in the Spring-Ford School District. Hoover, because of his love of the sport and unwavering dedication to those who wrestled, was often credited as being a big part in Spring-Ford's success through the years.