Tom Elling’s Wrestling Mat-Ters: Coronavirus disrupts end of wrestling season

This is my last wrestling column for the year.

So much has happened that it would be impossible to cover it all in a single column. The NCAA canceling both March Madness and the National Wrestling Tournament is huge. The domino effect of it all will probably never adequately be measured. From the destruction of boyhood dreams, to never-to-be-answered outcomes, to lost revenues to questions about ticket, hotel, plane reservation refunds- all brought about by a pandemic. The latter-mentioned should not and is not being taken lightly by anyone.

How far-reaching this will be is anyone’s guess. I do know the Olympic Trials scheduled for the Bryce Jordan Center have been postponed indefinitely. In fact, most public events have met the same fate. Some are postponed; some are flat-out canceled. This will pass. Although it is more far reaching and destructive than the record snowfall and blizzard we had several years ago during a Regional Tournament, we will one day look back and marvel how we acted and reacted.

My thoughts drift with a smile recalling Deege Gardner, Dave Liddick and Ron B. McGinniss making their way back to Lock Haven following snowplows after they served selling programs and tee-shirts.

There has been a rampant rumor that a group of Slippery Rock alums are making an effort to raise funding to bring back the men’s wrestling program and establish one for the women. I will be in touch with Fred Powell and post any updates on “Tom’s Wrestling Page” on Facebook.

One of our readers (Andy Thal of Bellefonte) asked how many returning PIAA champions did not repeat at the 2020 PIAA Championships. The short answer is six who were entered. In Class AAA, Carter Dibert (Franklin Regional), Alejandro Herrera-Rendon (Seneca Valley), Trey Kibe (Mifflin County), and Nate Schon (Selinsgrove) all werer beaten. Kyle Swartz (Northern York) was injured and was unable to compete. Class AA did not suffer as many missteps, but Forest Hills’ Jackson Arrington and Frazier’s Thayne Lawrence made that dreaded list. Lawrence was defeated by another returning champ- Andrew Cerniglia of Notre Dame GP. Dayton Pitzer of Mt. Pleasant, like Swartz, suffered an early-season injury and was never able to recover.

WPIAL’s Ethan Berginc (Hempfield) made history by becoming the first pigtail wrestler to ever win a state title. Granted that he was third in the WPIAL and would have still been in the tournament if the qualifiers had been the long-standing 16-person bracket. Ironically, the only other pigtail wrestler to reach the state finals was Giovanni Sanders (Jeanette) in 2016. Sanders was fourth at 152 and would not have been in the tournament under the old format. I say “ironic” because Jeannette is the neighboring school to Hempfield and Sanders and Berginc are friends.

Faith Christian (coached by Ben Clymer) had their first state placer in Eric Alderfer, who was eighth at 120-pounds. You can bet Clymer will build this program. At the team championships, after each match (and they have been two-and-out the past three years), they line up and shake the referees’ and the scoring table crews’ hands. They show genuine pleasure in being there and being part of a great event.

I have begun my tedious task of compiling information/data for my annual PA Wrestling Handbook. The something “new” this next edition will be the inclusion and comprehensive breakdown of the PIAA Team Tournament. Many of you will remember the first-ever Class AAA champion was that great BEA team of Dick Rhoades in 1999. I can still recall seeing Lester Beck, Dave Baughman, Kip Baughman and Tom Long sitting in the front-center of the stands. That was at the old Hershey Park Arena. The event moved to the Giant Center in 2002.

Wrestling and our communities lost two great guys recently. Dick Daniels and John Winder passed. Dick was a fellow teacher and was also one of my junior high wrestling coaches. The job he did was unheralded and very essential to the success of the Bobcat program. I was fortunate to have Dick, Bill, Bailey, Dave Liddick, Hank Hawkins, Bob Parks, John Arrigonie, Harold Boone as assistants. Winder was a standout wrestler for Williamsport High.

Also, passing was William Kline of Jersey Shore. Mr. Kline’s son, Barry, has provided me with his expertise in computer programming. All three men made contribution to their family, friends and communities. Please remember them and their families in your prayers.

To all reading this – and especially – the wrestlers, I strongly recommend taking a few minutes and watching a video of Admiral McRaven, a Navy Seal. The Admiral ties in what Navy Seal training encompasses and how it can relate to each of us to become better. It encompasses a message and a challenge to wrestlers (but also can apply to all of us who desire to make the world a better place.


Stay inside as much as you can. Follow the advice given to us. YOU are important to the community.

Stay Safe.


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