“The Year of the Cat (Tiger That Is)”
|Notable Coaching Changes:||Tom Ortwein à Gordon Bartholemew (Northampton)|
|Structural Changes:||Criteria added to determine winners in overtime; referees decisions are eliminated.|
|Superior decision is replaced with major decision (win by 8 points or more) earning 4 team points and major decision (win by 12 points or more) earning 5 team points in dual meets.|
|East Penn League Champion:||Easton (10-0-1)|
|Centennial Leauge Champion:||Northwestern (8-0)|
|Colonial League Champion:||Nazareth (8-0)|
|Centennial League Tourney:||Northwestern (5 Champions)|
|Class AAA:||Liberty (2 Champions)|
|Class AA:||Northwestern (3 Champions)|
|Class AAA:||District XI 12 Total Champs Bethlehem Catholic, Easton & Saucon Valley (2 Champions each)|
|Class AA:||District XI 9 Total Champs Northwestern (4 Champions)|
|Class AAA:||Freedom finishes 3rd and Saucon Valley 4th with one champion each|
|Class AA:||Northwestern finishes 4th with one champion|
|Individual State Champions:|
|Class AAA:||Bob Weaver, 105, Easton; Billy Williams, 155, Freedom; Jerry Rodriguez, 185, Saucon Valley; George Atiyeh, Hwt., Dieruff|
|Class AA:||Dan Blose, 185, Northwestern|
With no fewer than 17 District finalists and 3 State Champs back from 1976 to defend their titles, the 1976-77 season promised to be an exciting one! Bethlehem Catholic, Easton, Liberty and Phillipsburg had gone a combined 51-6-2 during the prior season and were ready to battle again for supremacy in the Lehigh Valley. Both Bethlehem Catholic and Saucon Valley graduated state champions and numerous starters from their strong 1975-76 teams as they faced an early test in the season opener for the new season. The Hawks emerged with an easier than expected 29-16 victory. A few nights later, Freedom served notice that they would by an EPL contender as they dealt Saucon Valley a 28-20 defeat.
League competition kicked off the next week. Last year’s EPL champion, Liberty whipped Bethlehem Catholic 30-13 as they won 8 of 12 bouts. Liberty was riding an 18 match winning streak when they traveled to Easton on December 16th. The Rovers got back-to-back falls from Bobby Weaver and Al Sandt early on and two close key wins from Tim DeLong and John Donnelly in the final two weight classes to pull out a 24-19 win over the Hurricanes. Bethlehem Catholic knocked off Phillipsburg 24-21 the same night.
After a few close early season non-league bouts, Northwestern won a key Centennial League match thanks to falls from Greg Stewart, Chris Wentz, Brian Billig and Bob Hicks to clip Pocono Mountain 30-23.
If there was any doubt that the Rovers had reloaded, it was erased on December 18th as they crushed Nazareth 33-11.
The Christmas City Tournament would cause Lehigh Valley fans to pull out their maps wondering where in the world is Port Jervis, New York? The Banach brothers – Ed, Steve and Lou – were the highlight of the tournament as all three brothers were crowned champions. Ed came from behind to knock off Freedom’s defending Regional champ Billy Williams 9-5. Freedom crowned only one champion, John Hammersmith at 132, but used tremendous balance to win the team title 174.5-168.5 over Parkland.
Phillipsburg won their own holiday tournament while Pocono Mountain and Northwestern won the Wallenpaupack and Perkiomen Valley tourneys, respectively. Council Rock crowned five champions to win the Easton Area Holiday Wrestling Tourney while host Easton finished 2nd. Liberty had three champions and finished 2nd in the Top Hall Invitational.
The first match after the holidays would be the dual meet to decide the Centennial League title. Propelled by falls by Bryan Billig, Dwight Billig and Dan Blose, Northwestern defeated Notre Dame 29-24. Freedom defeated Bethlehem Catholic 24-21 and Nazareth 26-17 to remain unbeaten.
January 13th was dubbed potentially “the biggest wrestling night of the season” by The Morning Call with at least four feature duals on tap. Nazareth had lost 7 of its last 8 matches (along with league titles) to Saucon Valley. But Coach Ray Nunamaker’s team was fired up before 1200 fans in its home gym. The Blue Eagles jumped out to a 14-0 lead and never trailed as they triumphed 33-19 over the Panthers.
Northwestern crushed defending league champion, Lehighton, 39-12 as they put themselves in position to win the Centennial League title. One bonus point, a 13-5 win by Mike Stocker at 167, was the difference as Phillipsburg knocked Freedom from the unbeaten ranks in the EPL. A fall by Bobby Weaver and 5 wins in a row from 119-145 paced Easton to a 27-18 win over Bethlehem Catholic.
Northwestern avenged another defeat from the prior season and cemented their lock on the Centennial League title by whipping Stroudsburg 38-17.
The end of January saw the energy crisis and cold weather impact saw a week with no high school athletics played in the state of Pennsylvania. Changes were made, including earlier start times and shortening of JV games and matches. Action resumed on February 3rd and saw Freedom travel to Easton for a key EPL match. The Rovers roared out to a 19-6 lead after 145, but Coach Bob Zarbatany was worried the lead was too small. Freedom Coach Bill Deibler shifted a number of wrestlers around in the last four weights and it paid off with four straight decisions including 167 pounder Brian Feeley’s major decision at heavyweight to earn a 19-19 tie.
Bethlehem Catholic had a dual meet against Port Jervis NY. The Hawks led 19-8 and then the Banach brothers took the mat. Twins Ed and Lou bookended falls around Steve’s 5-point major decision. Pat Brown’s fall earned Becahi a 25-25 tie.
Liberty, Freedom and Phillipsburg were all hoping for a Parkland upset over Easton so they could stay in the EPL title race. The Trojans came close but the Rovers escaped on Dan Kasperkoski’s 1-0 victory at heavyweight to win 25-22 and stay unbeaten.
Northwestern continued rolling, and senior Chris Wentz broke the state record for career falls. Liberty defeated Phillipsburg 23-21 to stay in the hunt and then hoped the ‘Liners could knock off the Rovers. On February 16th, Easton clinched the EPC title by beating their rival 25-19.
As the season wound down, the 2nd Centennial League tourney was held. Northwestern had four champions to easily outdistance Stroudsburg.
As a very competitive dual season came to a close, Easton (15-0-1 overall), Nazareth (10-4 overall) and Northwestern (14-0 overall) had won the East Penn, Colonial and Centennial League titles, respectively. Final league standings were as follows:
|Compiled Standings 1976-77||Place||W-L-D|
|Allentown Central Catholic||12||0-11|
Other teams finishing with at least 10 wins were: Bangor 10-4, Bethlehem Catholic 12-4-1, Freedom 13-2-1, Liberty 13-1, Notre Dame 12-2, Phillipsburg 15-3, Saucon Valley 13-6 and Southern Lehigh 10-6.
Sectionals & Districts:
The AAA tournament was again held over two consecutive weekends while the AA was structured with two sectionals, East & West, followed by the District tourney the following weekend.
Liberty took the lead after the first weekend and had seven wrestlers alive in the championship bracket as they led Bethlehem Catholic, Easton and Freedom. The Big 3 of Easton’s Bobby Weaver, Saucon Valley’s Jerry Rodriguez and Dieruff’s George Atiyeh easily repeated as district champions along with Liberty’s Carlos Rivera and Freedom’s Billy Williams. The latter two saw their teams battle for the team title. Both Liberty and Freedom advanced three wrestlers to the finals. All of Freedom’s finalists won to two for the Hurricanes, but Liberty had six wrestlers in the consolation finals. As a result, when Tom Jones won a title at 155, it clinched the team title for Liberty; the final margin was 2.5 points. Bethlehem Catholic had five finalists including four underclassmen to finish 3rd.
The top five in the final team scores were:
|AAA Team Scores:|
Northwestern advanced four wrestlers to the finals led by four-time champion and pinner extraordinaire Chris Wentz. Wentz picked up his state leading 74th career fall over Salisbury’s Perry Saraceno to win the title at 112. Bryan Billig (119) and Dan Blose (185) also won titles as Northwestern easily won the team title 101-83 over Wilson. The Warriors had two champs in Jim Nolasco (126) and Jeff Bartholomew (Hwt). Final team standings (top 5) were as follows:
|AA Team Scores:|
AAA Northeast Regionals:
District XI wrestlers won 23 of 36 bouts in the quarterfinals, and sixteen of them were able to advance to the finals. When the night ended at Liberty’s Memorial Gym, twelve District XI wrestlers were crowned champions – a clean sweep! Bethlehem Catholic, Easton, Liberty, Parkland and Saucon Valley all had two champs each while Freedom and Dieruff each had one in a very balanced performance. Four more District XI grapplers took 3rd place bringing the total state qualifiers to an even twenty.
AA Southeast Regional:
Northwestern continued their stellar season by crowing four regional champions – Chris Wentz (112), Bryan Billig (119), Dwight Billig (126) and Dan Blose (Hwt) all won titles. Five more District XI wrestlers won titles, and a total of 22 District XI wrestlers qualified for states.
AAA State Wrestling Championships
Fourteen District XI wrestlers won their first round bouts, and nine went on to win their quarterfinal bouts. Freedom had three semi-finalists in upsetter Tim Mugavero (126), Billy Williams (145) and Brian Feeley (167). Saucon Valley matched them with John Rodriguez (138), Mike Neith (155) and Jerry Rodriguez (185). The other members of the “Big 3” of Bobby Weaver and George Atiyeh also won; Atiyeh had a state tourney record ten second fall. Liberty’s Tom Jones (155) rounded out the local winners.
District XI advanced four wrestlers to the finals, and all four triumphed. Bobby Weaver won his 3rd title while Jerry Rodriguez and George Atiyeh won their 2nd titles. Weaver finished his career 87-3 (62 wins in a row); Rodriguez’s final record was 98-7 (also 62 wins in a row) and Atiyeh wrapped up his career 67-4. Billy Williams was the 4th winner. Tom Jones finished 3rd while Mugavaro, John Rodriguez, Neith and Feeley were 4th. In the team standings, Freedom was 3rd and Saucon Valley finished 4th.
AA State Wrestling Championships
The local contingent from AA was not nearly as successful. Northwestern’s Chris Wentz (112) and Dan Blose (185) advanced to the semi-finals along with Wilson’s Jim Nolasco (126) and Salisbury’s Craig Ziegler (155).
Wentz held a 3-0 lead in the semi-finals but dropped a 4-3 decision; he won his final bout 24-17 to finish 3rd after two state runner-up finishes and ended his career 99-5 with 76 by fall. The Tigers’ other semi-finalist, Dan Blose battled through a knee injury and won by fall and then 6-3 in the finals to become Northwestern’s first state champ. Northwestern was not golden, but finished a fantastic season in 4th place in the team standings. Salisbury’s Ziegler finished as a state runner-up, and Nolasco was 4th.
All four District XI AAA champs participated in the U.S. All-Star Wrestling Classic (a/k/a Dapper Dan Classic). Bobby Weaver, Jerry Rodriguez and George Atiyeh all pinned their U.S. team opponents to lead the PA contingent to a 29-26 triumph!