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Mike Rendos on sports: CM grad Bitner doing well at Wellsboro

Imagine being a young high school teacher on your first job and you willingly take on the extra-curricular task of resuscitating a moribund wrestling program that had been on a four-year hiatus due to lack of numbers.

Further imagine that as you sought assistant coaches to restart the program you happen to bump into not one, but two, former NCAA Division 1 All-American wrestlers who were ready and willing to help you get the program back on its feet.

If you are former Blanchard resident and Central Mountain and LHU graduate Bryce Bitner you don’t have to imagine such an occurrence because it actually happened. After graduation from LHU, the likeable Bitner trekked up to the Northern Yier to accept a teaching position at Wellsboro. When he arrived he found a school that was highly competitive in nearly every sport, yet lacked a wrestling program.

Hailing from wrestling tradition-rich Central Mountain and being influenced by a bevy of highly successful wrestling coaches along the way — including his father Jody, Brett Kleckner, Doug Buckwalter and Biff Walizer — Bitner realized the positive impact high school wrestling can have upon student/athletes and proceeded to set in motion the details needed to re-establish wrestling at the school. In visiting the school’s weight room he had the good fortune of being introduced to Matt Pell and Andy Rendos, two former college wrestlers who had recently relocated to Wellsboro.

Pell was a four-time Wisconsin state champion and two-time All American at Missouri, while Rendos was a two-time PIAA champion and two-time All American at Bucknell. Both give all the credit to Bitner for managing to spark renewed interest in the Wellsboro wrestling program and believe he is the right man to lead the program. They both believe that he is passionate about high school wrestling and is able to transfer that passion for the sport to the kids on the team.

Bitner’s goal is to establish a wrestling culture in Wellsboro, and by the fact that the Hornets had 25 wrestlers suited up in front of a packed Hornet’s Nest gymnasium at the first home match back in December indicates Bitner is on the right track.

• By virtue of its convincing 33-18 victory over Alabama, Georgia was crowned the CFP national champions. End-of-year discussions always involve the question of which is the dominant Division 1 football conference in America, and there are a number of measurements that can be used in such a discussion.

The final top ten rankings of teams included three from the Big Ten (Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State), three from the Big 12 (Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma) and two from the SEC (Georgia, Alabama). The recent bowl season saw the Big 12 at 5-2, the Big Ten at 6-4, the SEC at 6-8, and the ACC at 2-4. So, in terms of final rankings and bowl game success, one might argue that the Big Ten and Big 12 were every bit as successful in 2021 as the SEC which produced the overall champion.

However, when you take a multiple year review of other factors, the conclusion takes a very different turn in favor of the SEC. For example, over the past 16 college football seasons, 12 of the 16 national champions have hailed from the SEC. Three of the remaining four were from the ACC. The only Big Ten school in the mix was Ohio State in 2014.

NFL talent scout Rick Stavig, who played college football at both Ole Miss and Shippensburg, believes that SEC dominance is fact and not opinion. He tracked the last 10 NFL drafts and found that 512 SEC players were drafted, the ACC being second with 129. In terms of first-round picks, once again the SEC dominated with 101, while the ACC was a distant 58.

As one who has spent much time around SEC football, Stavig believes the conference’s dominance rests upon three pillars:

1. Football has a higher priority in the south than any other part of the country. It is game day every day in the American south, not just on Saturday. Listen to the Paul Finebaum show and you will see what Stavig means.

2. There is more high school football talent in the south than anywhere else. Draw a line from Florida to Texas and you will find an area rich with prep talent that feeds into the SEC.

3. The SEC invests more resources into its programs — including training, coaches, nutrition, and world-class facilities — which tends to attract world-class athletes across the board. So while the question of just which American football conference is at the top of the pile is up for debate, there can be no debating the fact that there are some very good football players in the SEC.

• It is not uncommon for there to be twists and turns in the college football recruiting trail, but the experience encountered by a Vancouver, Washington, family back in early December is one they likely will never forget. After Notre Dame’s final regular season game in late November, coach Brian Kelly and two assistants hopped a plane to Vancouver to make an in-home recruiting visit to one of the Irish’s prized high school recruit in wide receiver Tobias Merriweather.

In a two-hour meeting with Merriweather and his parents, Kelly outlined all the details of arriving at the South Bend campus in August and what to expect during the pre-season. At the conclusion of the living room meeting, Kelly excused himself to answer his beeping cell phone. Fifteen minutes later Kelly joined the rest of the coaches and family at the dinner table for a sumptuous meal of deviled eggs, broiled shrimp and burnt brisket ends, a Vancouver favorite. At the conclusion of the meal the Notre Dame contingent thanked the family for a wonderful dinner and told young Merriweather they would keep in touch.

Merriweather and his father then go back to the living room to watch SportsCenter and are shocked to see breaking news that Kelly agreed to become the next head coach at LSU. A quick call to Kelly by Merriweather confirmed the report.

While disappointed about the way the visit played out, Merriweather’s father Dom found some humor in the day’s events. When asked why Kelly would stick around and eat dinner after he had accepted the LSU job on his cell phone, Dom replied, “He must like brisket ends because he had three servings before he left for the airport.”

As for young Merriweather, he still has interest in Notre Dame, but is looking at some other schools as well. I doubt if LSU is one of them.

Mike Rendos is a former Keystone Central School District counselor,a current Central Mountain High School assistant athletic director and a longtime PIAA sports official.

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