“The Magnificent Seven”:

District XI Wrestling
Perhaps the Greatest Year Ever for District XI as Bob Weaver (Easton), Jim Zenz (Saucon Valley), Rick Rodriguez (Saucon Valley), Brian Statum (Liberty), Jerry Rodriguez (Saucon Valley), Mike Brown (Bethlehem Catholic) & George Atiyeh (Dieruff) all win AAA State Titles! (Photo Courtesy of Norm Palovscik’s History of the PIAA Wrestling Championships)












Notable Coaching Changes:Bill Krebs --> Ray Ferraro (Emmaus)
? --> Bob Jiorle (Palisades)
Mike Davis --> Don Schleicher (William Allen)
Ray Walters --> Malcolm Purdy (Wilson)
League Changes:Lehigh-Northampton and Lehigh Valley Leagues are eliminated; Centennial and Colonial Leagues are created.
East Penn League adds Emmaus, Parkland and Whitehall
Structural Changes:Class A and Class B are renamed as Class AAA and Class AA. Consolation bouts for 3rd-4th in PIAA State Championships are reinstated. Class AAA Districts are now held on two consecutive weekends as Sectionals are eliminated. Class AA Sectionals are reduced to two – East & West.
East Penn League Champion:Liberty (11-0)
Colonial League Champion:Saucon Valley (8-0)
Centennial League Champion:Lehighton (7-1)
Centennial League Tourney:Pocono Mountain
District Champion:
Class AAA:Liberty (4 Champions)
Class AA:Lehighton (2 Champions)
Class AAA:District XI – 9 Total Champs – Saucon Valley & Liberty (3 Champs each)
Class AA:District XI – 10 Total Champs – Notre Dame (2 Champions)
PIAA States:
Class AAA:Saucon Valley wins 1st official team state title with three champions and 54.5 points. Liberty is 2nd with 1 champ and 51.5 points. Easton is 5th.
Individual State Champions:
Class AAA:Bob Weaver, 98, Easton; Jim Zenz, 105, Saucon Valley; Rick Rodriguez, 145, Saucon Valley; Brian Statum, 155, Liberty; Jerry Rodriguez, 167, Saucon Valley; Mike Brown, 185, Bethlehem Catholic; George Atiyeh, Hwt., Dieruff

League Realignment

1975-76 saw the end of the Lehigh-Northampton and Lehigh Valley leagues and formation of the new Colonial and Centennial Leagues as well as an expanded East Penn League.  In addition, Classes A & B gave way to AAA and AA.

During late 1973, nine of the 14 Lehigh-Northampton League teams decided to exit and form their own league, the Colonial League.  In March 1974, four of the eight Lehigh Valley League schools announced that they would be leaving the league effective July 1, 1975 to join the new Centennial League which would also potentially include East Stroudsburg (which originally was going to join the Colonial League), Pocono Mountain and Panther Valley (which subsequently voted not to join).  East Penn League member Notre Dame, Pleasant Valley and Northwestern were all admitted into the league to form a nine team league.  Original league members included East Stroudsburg, Lehighton, Northern Lehigh, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Palmerton, Pleasant Valley, Pocono Mountain and Stroudsburg.

Catasauqua and Palisades were admitted to the Colonial League while two of the original nine “breakaway teams” (East Stroudsburg and Parkland) decided not to join.  That resulted in the original Colonial League members being Bangor, Catasauqua, Nazareth, Palisades, Pen Argyl, Salisbury, Saucon Valley, Southern Lehigh and Wilson.

That left Emmaus, Northampton and Whitehall along with LNL member, Parkland, as the only teams in the Lehigh Valley League.  A short time later, these four teams opted to join the East Penn League and the “New East Penn League”.

The Morning Call sports editor John Kunda wrote “school size and location were obvious conclusions for placement.  On paper the realignment looks fine for all concerned, however, there are some exceptions.”

Mike Brown
Mike Brown , along with brother Pat, led many comeback victories for the Hawks (Photo Courtesy of Bethlehem Catholic HS Yearbook)

Opening night, had Saucon Valley wrestling against Bethlehem Catholic, who was the only team to defeat the Panthers the year before.  The Golden Hawks trailed with only two bouts to go, but got falls from Mike and Pat Brown to knock off the Panthers 26-23.

Liberty had edged Easton 21-15 to win the East Penn League title and deal the Rovers their only loss of the ’74-‘75 season.  The schedule makers wasted no time in getting to a premiere match early on as the Rovers traveled to Bethlehem to face the Hurricanes on December 11th.  Easton’s strong lightweights, paced by a Bobby Weaver fall, opened up a 15-6 lead before Liberty’s Bernie Fritz, Tom Jones and Brian Statum pulled Liberty ahead 16-15.  After swapping decisions at 167 and 185, Jim Patelllis’ victory in the final bout gave Coach Frank Gutierrez a 22-18 win.

Parkland, in their first EPL season, upset Phillipsburg 29-19.  Liberty faced another early challenge from Phillipsburg but triumphed 25-20.

Local teams did well in the annual holiday tournaments.  Dieruff had three champions and three runner-ups in winning the Wall Invitational.  Liberty and Saucon Valley finished 1-2 in the Millionaire Top Hat Tourney.  Easton won their holiday tournament for the 4th year in a row.  Bethlehem Catholic had not won the Christmas City Tourney for two years (that honor went to Nazareth), but they came back to clip Parkland as they crowned five champions.

Easton opened up a 21-10 lead before its home crowd in the annual showdown against Phillipsburg.  The Stateliners rallied with a close decision by Mike Kennedy, a fall by Ed Allen at 185 and a final bout win by George Philip to win 22-21.

A new league but the same fierce rivalry would see Saucon Valley and Nazareth match up in a mid-January match.  The Panthers won many of the close matches and began to pull away when John Masiado scored a fall at 126.  Rick and Jerry Rodriguez would add identical 15-0 decisions at 155 and 167 as Saucon Valley romped over their rival 32-13.

In the Centennial League, Northwestern dropped the first bout but won five of the next six to lead Lehighton 21-8.  Mark and Dan Blose had key wins in the upper weights as the Tigers held onto hold off Lehighton 32-23.

Bobby Weaver
Bobby Weaver Went Undefeated in His Junior Year (Photo Courtesy of Easton HS Yearbook)

Easton and Bethlehem Catholic battled to a 26-26 tie.  The Rovers led early as Bob Weaver and Henry Callie topped Gene Waas and Tom Bold.  Becahi would fight back with a middleweight rally winning four of five bouts from 119 to 145 but Easton still led 18-15.  The Rovers would extend their lead but the Brown Brothers won the final two bouts to gain the draw.

January 19th saw another key Centennial League match.  Notre Dame’s strong middle weights helped them to improve to 9-0 and 5-0 in the league as they topped Northwestern 33-25.  The Crusaders hopes for an unbeaten season were upended by Pocono Mountain.  The Crusaders led 21-12, but Pocono Mountain won the final three bouts to pull into a tie for the league lead 25-21.

Bethlehem Catholic’s Brown brothers both scored falls to punctuate the Hawks first win ever over Phillipsburg 32-11 in an EPL bout.  The same night Stroudsburg upset Northwestern28-26, and Pocono Mountain beat Notre Dame 25-21 in two key Centennial League matches.

As January wound down, Lehighton downed Pocono Mountain 36-15.  The Centennial League was a five team battle with Notre Dame and Lehighton having one loss and Northwestern, Pocono Mountain and Stroudsburg with two losses.  Saucon Valley had all but wrapped up the Colonial League thanks to their earlier win over Nazareth.  Liberty led the way in the EPL at 8-0 while Bethlehem Catholic was 5-0-1 with a February 12th showdown looming.

On February 7th, Saucon Valley (9-1) visited Liberty (10-0) for the annual battle between two of the area’s most competitive teams. Saucon Valley trailed 24-8  as Liberty had won six of the first eight bouts.  Rick Rodriguez took the mat to face Brian Statum and knocked off the unbeaten Hurricane grappler 9-4.  Jerry Rodriguez followed with a fall and the Panthers were within range 24-17.  Draws in the final two bouts made the final score 28-21, and Coach Frank Gutierrez’s Hurricanes had triumphed.

The same evening, the deciding match in an exciting Centennial League season was on tap as Lehighton traveled to Green Pond to challenge Notre Dame.  Lehighton led 19-6 but the Crusaders roared back with three decisions and a fall by Charlie Powell to lead 22-19.  Charles Bachert’s pin at 185 decided the match as Notre Dame forfeited the final bout.  Lehighton had won the match 29-22 and the first Centennial League title!

Bethlehem Catholic Wrestling
Vince Polentes Won a Key Bout Against the Hawks (Photo Courtesy of Bethlehem Catholic HS Yearbook)
Mike Brown
Mike Brown Battles Brian Statum (Photo Courtesy of Bethlehem Catholic HS Yearbook)







Before a crowd of 2,500 fans in Memorial Gym, Liberty defeated Bethlehem Catholic 25-16 to win the East Penn League title.  Both coaches made multiple moves in shifting wrestlers between weight classes.  It seems Coach Frank Gutierrez’s moves of bumping Bernie Fritz up to 138 to earn a draw with Joe Buggar and swapping Vince Polentes and Brian Statum at 155 and 167 were the key moves.  Polentes won a superior decision while Statum avoided a fall against Mike Brown who had dropped to 167.

Pocono Mountain edged Lehighton 97-93 to win the Centennial League tournament.

As the regular season came to a close, EPL champ Liberty was the lone unbeaten in the Lehigh Valley at 13-0.  Colonial League champ Saucon Valley finished 12-2 while Centennial League champ Lehighton was 9-5.  Tri-Valley league champ, North Schuylkill was 14-0.  Other teams finishing with at least 10 wins included Bethlehem Catholic (12-1-1), Easton (11-2-1), Northwestern (10-4), Notre Dame (12-2), Parkland (10-4), Pen Argyl (12-2) and Phillipsburg (15-3).

After a very competitive season, the league standings were as follows:

Compiled Standings 1975-76PlaceW-L-D
East Penn
Bethlehem Catholic29-1-1
William Allen8T3-8
Allentown Central Catholic120-11
Saucon Valley18-0
Pen Argyl36-2
Southern Lehigh6T2-6
Notre Dame2T6-2
Pocono Mountain4T5-2-1
East Stroudsburg62-5-1
Pleasant Valley90-8

The Class AA Sectionals were consolidated from 4 sectionals to 2, as follows:

BangorBishop Hafey
CatasauquaBlue Mountain
East StroudsburgJim Thorpe
Notre DameMahoney Area
Pen ArgylNorth Schuylkill
Pius XPalmerton
Pocono MountainPanther Valley
SalisburyPine Grove
SlatingtonSchuylkill Haven
Southern LehighShenandoah

District XI AAA Tournament

As they had during the regular season, Liberty was at the top of the standings when the District XI AAA tourney finished on March 6th.  The Hurricanes had four champions and five 3rd place finishers on their way to winning the team title.  Saucon Valley had three champions but finished behind a very balanced Bethlehem Catholic team in the battle for 2nd place.  Bob Weaver, Jim Zenz, Jerry Rodriguez, Mike Brown and George Atiyeh all boasted undefeated records.  Brown was named Most Outstanding Wrestler.  District Team Scores were as follows:

Class AAA District Team Scores   
Bethlehem Catholic110Whitehall15
Saucon Valley101Hazleton14
Freedom72.5West Hazleton8
Parkland56William Allen8

District XI AA Tournament

Lehighton Coach Roland Alger was named Coach of the Year as Lehighton easily won the AA team title with two champions, two runner-ups and two 3rd place finishers.  Northwestern’s Chris Wentz won his 3rd District title and was name co-Outstanding Wrestler along with North Schuylkill’s Mike Harris.  Final team standings were:

Class AA District Team Scores   
Lehighton91.5Blue Mountain16
Notre Dame62.5Tamaqua16
North Schuylkill52.5Palmerton14
Stroudsburg46.5Jim Thorpe12
Northwestern46Pine Grove12
Pocono Mountain39.5East Stroudsburg9
Panther Valley30Slatington9
Pen Argyl30Minersville7
Southern Lehigh26Shenandoah Valley4
Bangor25Bishop Hafey3
Salisbury24Schuylkill Haven3
Catasauqua22Mahoney Area1
Wilson20Pius X1

AAA Northeast Regional Tournament

1976 Northeast Regional Wrestling
1976 Northeast Regional Champions: Front Row – Bobby Weaver (Easton), Jim Zenz (Saucon Valley), Carlos Rivera (Liberty), Jaime Burkhardt (Bishop O’Reilly), Greg Sweigard (Liberty), Bucky McCollum(Shikellamy); Back Row – Billy Williams (Freedom), Rick Rodriguez (Saucon Valley), Brian Statum (Liberty), Jerry Rodriguez (Saucon Valley), Mike Brown (Beth Catholic), Bill Pfeiffer (WB Coughlin) Photo from PIAA State Championship Program Via Tim Kuhn

District XI dominated the action at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre as they claimed 23 of the 36 qualifying slots for the state tournament.  Liberty and Saucon Valley each had three champions – Carlos Rivera, Greg Sweigard and Brian Statum for the Hurricanes and Jim Zenz, Rick Rodriguez and Jerry Rodriguez for the Panthers.  Easton’s Bobby Weaver, Freedom’s Billy Williams and Bethlehem Catholic’s Mike Brown also won titles while Dieruff’s George Atiyeh dropped a 6-6, 2-2 referee’s decision to Bill Pfeiffer.


AA Southeast Regional Tournament

Chris Wentz
Chris Wentz – Northwestern Pinner Extraordinaire (Photo Courtesy of Northwestern HS Yearbook)

Chris Wentz won his 3rd Regional title and collected his 51st career pin.  Wentz led 10 District XI individual champs and 22 qualifiers for the state tournament.  Notre Dame’s Dennis Andrews and Chris Buschi, Palmerton’s Todd Mertz, Pocono Mountain’s Dan Odom, Stroudsburg’s Bob Hemhauser and Al Lewis, Pen Argyl’s Mike Cesare, Tri-Valley’s Gary Scheib and Lehighton’s Rick Koch also won regional crowns.

AAA PIAA State Tournament

Frank Gutierrez
Frank “The Silver Fox” Gutierrez – Coach of the Year (Photo Courtesy of Liberty HS Yearbook)

Thirteen District XI wrestlers advanced to the semi-finals and had a stellar performance in the finals by crowning seven individual champions – the most ever for the district and 2nd most ever.  Easton’s Bobby Weaver (98) and Liberty’s Brian Statum (155) each won their 2nd state championship.  Saucon Valley won the team title with three champions – Jim Zenz (105), Rick Rodriguez (145) and Jerry Rodriguez (167).  Becahi’s Mike Brown (185) finished a perfect senior year at 28-0, and Dieruff’s George Atiyeh (Hwt) avenged his only loss as they completed “The Magnificent Seven.”  Liberty’s Frank Gutierrez, who had 4 semi-finalists and finished 2nd in the team race, was named Coach of the Year.   Easton, Bethlehem Catholic and Dieruff all finished in the Top 10.

AA PIAA State Tournament

Four District XI AA wrestlers were able to gain the semi-finals, but only Chris Wentz was able to reach the finals.  Northwestern’s Wentz was on a quest to average last year’s defeat to Northern Bedford’s Jan Clark.  Wentz dropped an 8-5 decision to Clark to finish 2nd in the state for the 2nd consecutive year.

Phillipsburg Post Season

The Stateliners won another NJ District 12 team title with 8 finalists and 3 champions.  Jack Yost won a NJ Region 3 title and finished as a NJ state runner-up.

Coming Soon – the Story of District XI’s 7 AAA State Champions:  Bobby Weaver, Jim Zenz, Rick Rodriguez, Brian Statum, Jerry Rodriguez, Mike Brown & George Atiyeh!